Just across West London, in a former bus depot on Latimer Road, there’s a new theatre space, the Playground, which I visited for the first time on Saturday.
The complex comprises a small bar/cafe (with free wi-fi), spacious loos, and the performance space itself, which has the feel of a rehearsal room with the regular sound of tube trains rushing by.
I was invited to see My Brother’s Keeper, a revival of the Nigel Williams dramedy about health, loss, family politics, and communication.
Produced by Tinted Frame, this is a timely revival in terms of its comments on an understaffed, overworked NHS, but also in disseminating awareness of the effects of a stroke.
Andy de La Tour plays Mr Stone, bed-bound with a right side which won’t respond and memory/cognitive lapses. He’s an actor, given to the “grand classical gesture”, and seems more at ease hiding behind a character than engaging with his wife or children.
Mrs Stone (Kathryn Pogson) is nervous, worried, and can’t give voice to the relationship that has kept her tied to 47 years together. It may be love, but if it is, her sons don’t have the right to know it. She rambles about inconsequential things like leaking yoghurt pots, but not her own feelings.
Tony (Josh Taylor, who also co-produced the show), is casual, a playwright, a petulant child, a sarcastic and bitter father who grieves for his dead daughter but refuses to talk about her.
Brother Samuel (David Partridge), tightly wound in a suit, brings exercises he feels will help dad and speaks glibly about his mistress in the country, yet explodes with anger when his mother tries to connect by using his childhood name, Sammy.
And there’s Terry (William Reay), cheerful nurse against all adversity despite the lack of useful facilities (“this isn’t a hospital, it’s more of a shed”). He uses the language which comes from years of soothing the scared, the dying, the bereaved. He’s close to nervous exhaustion but masks it. A different kind of actor, a different kind of stage.
It’s clear that the relationship between the four Stones has been rocky – is their very name a metaphor? – but now dad, between naps and refusing to eat, seems to want to make peace. He’s been abusive in the past to his sons, maybe his wife too. The wife he takes for granted.
Their children – successful Sam, who makes his father’s eyes light up when he arrives even though he tends to stay away; problem Tony, who deals with frustration and loss by cheating on the wife no one can accept.
They circle and goad each other, Sam resenting Tony just for being born and having political freedom; Tony resenting Sam for his positivity and happy family veneer.
There is such a lot going on in this short (75 minutes) and razor-sharp play, directed by Craig Gilbert. Wickedly funny, realistically human, and unabashedly political, this is definitely worth your time and attention.
Remember also to support both the theatre itself, which needs time and investment to grow, and the Stroke Association, which provides help and rehabilitation to patients and their families.