by Charlotte Keatley.
Palace Theatre To 3 March 2012.
Mon-Sat 7.30pm Mat Sat 2.30pm.
Audio-described 3 March 2.30pm.
Runs 2hr 30min One interval.
TICKETS: 01934 225671.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 1 March.
Sins of the fathers unremittingly visited on the daughter.
About a quarter-century ago, playwright Charlotte Keatley and director Brigid Larmour hit mid-eighties theatre in Manchester with My Mother Said I Never Should – a virtually instant modern classic, widely produced and studied for exams.
It was a ‘set text’ that never became too set. A story of four generations of women in a northern family, it retains its freshness though the play’s original ‘now’ has become part of history. Keatley shaped her generation-hopping story through several objects, right to its final sense of resolution, while skilfully creating a sense of the characters’ relationships with the men who never appear.
In her new play, Our Father, they do, to neither their, nor the play’s, benefit. From a medieval Priest to present-day Bill, husband to Sheila and father of 30-year old Anna (Anna O’Grady, a sensitively-modulated performance), and the warden Anna meets on returning to her parents’ home in the shadow of the dam-wall her grandfather built, the more modern the man, the nastier.
Except for grandfather Albert, the engineer whose dam finally gives way. Long dead, photos of his treatment of family women horrify Anna, who’s home because the authorities have cut funding to her environmental education project.
Keatley retains the power to create a sense of wonder within daily experience, and there are several strong moments in the staging, like Anna’s strange underwater meeting with medieval anchoress Catherine, whose sense of guilt made her choose to be walled-up to praise God. Anna, also instilled with guilt, sinks towards her, an image encapsulating the self-harm of assuming blame.
Adam Wiltshire’s set places Anna’s home beneath the reservoir. Water is a recurring image, from a leak beneath the fridge to the final flood. But the play suffers from several stodgily undramatic chunks of speech. The best moments, with a magnetic sense of mother/daughter relations being shifted, are surrounded by repetitive bickering, while the wildlife guardian keeps being dropped by the playwright, then picked up as an instrument showing male oppression in a play whose author takes some characters a long way, while seeming not to know what to do with others.
Anna: Anna O’Grady.
Jack/Priest: Chris Kelham.
Bill: Paul Greenwood.
Sheila: Julia St John.
Catherine: Faye Winter.
Director: Brigid Larmour.
Designer: Adam Wiltshire.
Lighting: Jenny Cane.
Sound: Rich Walsh.
Movement: Shona Morris.