A Small Family Business (National Theatre) review

This revival of Alan Ayckbourn’s 1987 play no longer has the bite it had on first run, but it still a powerful blend of farcical humour and dark family politics.  In Nigel Lindsay’s moral compass Jack McCracken we have a businessman who starts with strong words and then sees his values slowly eroded as the dealings of his family and their associates the Rivetti brothers begin to unravel.

True, these days it might not be startling to see a sulky teenager become embroiled in the power of drugs, or a bored wife spending her free time in leather corset and boots, but take this with the 1980s spirit and it is still an enjoyable romp through a truly terrible family which, in this new staging from director Adam Penford, reaches a conclusion which is still hard-hitting.

The Olivier’s revolve is well-served by the set which has the front of a suburban house slowly turning to reveal a network of rooms which represent scene changes and location changes; the same house for all, hallway, bathroom, kitchen, bedroom, living room.  The characters may have a hint of the stereotype about them but they are well-written within the confines of the plot and along with Lindsay, there are good turns from Debra Gillett as Jack’s wife, Niky Wardley as the fetishistic sister-in-law, Neal Barry as Desmond who lives for his sub-par culinary experiments, and Matthew Cottle as the oily blackmailer.

It isn’t as obviously funny as Ayckbourn’s better known titles (like Absent Friends or Season’s Greetings), but it is fast-paced, well-performed and is worth a look, even if it doesn’t quite reach the heights of a perfect-ten production.

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