This, the first production from Rue Theatre, is about death. Yes. Which means it might be a bit, well, grim. It is. No opportunity for grimness is lost in this piece, set in a cancer ward in which Dad is dying surrounded by his squabbling family, in a sort of sub-Tennessee Williams atmosphere where everyone has skeletons leaping revengefully out of cupboards till you can’t see the set for the bones. They’re joined by a sort of art therapist who wants to give Dad a ‘good death’, it says here – which actually leads into yet more gloom including memories of Nazis and death camps. There’s a dead pigeon (?);Dante’s Inferno; Greek myth; and modern art. In the end even the therapist turns out to have a skeleton and a cupboard and a sister to rant at her about it. The leaden script does come briefly to life with Dad at first arguing with therapy lady that he wants to be left alone to get on with dying and doesn’t want any mystic mumbo-jumbo – but he soon succumbs, and on and on it goes. The script, which, I think, seeks somehow to say something meaningful about dying, is said in the programme notes to be a “synergy between academic research, community theatre and artistic investigation”. Maybe these elements are not well-matched: sadly they have not synergised here into a piece of theatre that really lives. The relentless humourlessness, the repeated portentous way of talking in which virtually everything is said as though it’s a sermon or a diatribe make for heavy going. The cast do their best with it, but the endless series of revelatory monologues of past and present grievances finally start to feel faintly ludicrous, more Acorn Antiques than Eugene O’Neill, and make it hard to take this over-wrought play seriously. Pity.
John Christopher Wood