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The Heart of Things

Giles Cole
Close Quarter Productions
Jermyn Street Theatre

Ralph Watson as Brian Calder, Patience Tomlinson as Ros Calder, Nick Waring as Peter Calder and Keith Parry as Bob Farrow
Nick Waring as Peter Calder and Amy Rockson as Jacqui Price
Nick Waring as Peter Calder and Patience Tomlinson as Ros Calder
Amy Rockson as Jacqui Price and Ollo Clark as William Farrow
Ralph Watson as Brian Calder, Nick Waring as Peter Calder, Patience Tomlinson as Ros Calder, Ollo Clark as William Farrow and Keith Parry as Bob Farrow

Giles Cole’s new play presents the Calder family when they gather to celebrate Ros Calder’s birthday, briefly in 2004 and then again in 2010 when she is 50.

As so often when families gather, they aren’t so much festive occasions as an upwelling of old frustrations and resentments; nothing new there, but this is a family with its own quirkiness.

This isn’t a case of a far-flung tribe being briefly reunited. Ros’s younger brother Peter, a teacher in Clapham, is the one who is making a rare return to the family homestead. A reference to Harry, who shares the rent with him in London, hints he’s a gay man who has never come out to his family.

Ros has a son, William, whose father is seen making a boat out of matchsticks, which typically he has been building for years, as the play opens. Bob looks like a fixture but doesn’t actually live there.

He’s a local Norfolk man, but the Calders came from London when they were children, after their dad lost his job, and father Brian seems as provincial and hide-bound by class as Bob (“Mozart isn’t for the likes of me”). He’s bitter too, stuck in a wheelchair dependent on his daughter, disappointed at the way his kids turned out and guilty about his late wife.

There are a lot of layers of back-story to emerge and new twists when things fast-forward to just after the 2010 election. On Ros’s fiftieth birthday, Peter has brought Jacqui Price, a sophisticated, high-flying woman, along with him.

They met campaigning (for the Tories presumably). A divorce behind her, Jacqui has political ambitions; he wants to marry her. She is elegantly played by Amy Rockson, so poised she can handle anything. Whatever their other prejudices, no one reacts to her skin colour, perhaps because she’s so posh.

In 2010, William is also a visitor, now living in London with a job in the city. He seems uncomplicated, Ollo Clark makes him relaxed and charming and capable. He’ll be OK. Patience Tomlinson also makes his mother really likeable, a somewhat put-upon elder daughter, still concerned for her kid brother who definitely deserves better than she got.

Ros is the only character one begins to care about. There are just a few moments in which Brian is allowed to reveal some humanity but Bob is totally wrapped up in himself and Ralph Watson and Keith Parry have to work hard to suggest anything more than a stock pair of old codgers.

Peter’s complexities carry the most weight in the drama. Nick Waring seems as baffled by them as is his character. The play tries to take too much on board. Teacher baiting by pupils, unbalanced emotional relationships, sexual insecurities, failed ambitions, and a sibling back history of Jacobean dimensions quickly glanced at.

Under Knight Mantell’s direction each scene is played for the moment, which partly disguises the overload and the demands that that places on credibility.

The play never really gets to the heart of things but, though that may it less gripping as drama, that is just as it is in real families. Its many facets are a reminder of the personal guilts we have about, and barely acknowledged debts we all owe to, our other family members, whatever our own hidden secrets.

Reviewer: Howard Loxton