Bedlam Theatre, Edinburgh
This thoughtful and bitter-sweet play by Andrew Bovell is all about family: the everyday sacrifices made by parents, and the difficulties experienced by their offspring when they try to escape those powerful familial ties.
Rosie Price (Maddy Chisholm-Scott) is midway through a backpacking tour of Europe, when something goes horribly wrong in Berlin. Devastated, she heads back to Australia, to 25, Windarie Avenue, the family home. Here, Bob (Matthew Storey) presides over his immaculately tended rose garden, where he’s spent all his time since taking early retirement. His wife, Fran (Amelia Watson), continues to put in long and punishing shifts at the local hospital, where she is a nurse.
Rosie’s early return from her travels brings her siblings to the house to ask a few difficult questions – though it soon becomes apparent that they all have their own problems to deal with. There’s Pip (Erin Bushe), currently going through a messy separation from her husband and children. There’s Ben (Liam Bradbury), desperately trying to make his name in the cut-throat world of big business, and there’s Mark (Matthew Sedman), who is contemplating a life change that will have repercussions for the whole family.
This is an accomplished piece from these student actors, with Story and Watson managing – with the aid of some expertly applied makeup – to convince us that they’re actually a couple in their 60s. The direction by Marie Rimolsronning and Alice Foley is assured, and the elaborate set works well, creating a sense of the seasons passing as the various story strands unravel. If the play’s first half feels a little overlong and would benefit from some judicious pruning, the second half is leaner and more powerful.
There’s only one notable misstep, where Mark is obliged to deliver some lines from ‘up a tree.’ Somewhat let down by the scale of the props, he looks like a comical giant, so that the gravity of the scene is compromised. It would work so much better if he were to remain grounded!
There’s a tragic and genuinely heartbreaking conclusion: it’s this climactic moment, where Bob’s seemingly indominatable composure is finally and irrevocably shattered, that lingers in the memory.