You can’t choose your family. For better or worse, we only get one – and sometimes we just have to make the best of it. The Gathered Leaves, written by Andrew Keatley and directed by Antony Eden, explores the complex relationships between three generations of the Pennington family, as they come together for the first time in 17 years, attempting to heal old wounds and move forward into an uncertain future. Over the course of the long Easter weekend, tensions rise as secrets are revealed and bombshells dropped. There’s a sense that something has to give, and the question only remains – who will be first to snap, and what will happen when they do?
The play takes the form of a series of individual scenes, in which different combinations of family members interact, giving each member of the stellar cast their chance to shine. Clive Francis is William Pennington, an elderly man facing the end of life as he knows it, on a political as well as a personal level, and is by turns pitiable, tyrannical and oddly likeable; he has a mischievous streak that you can’t help but enjoy. Jane Asher brings a regal air to her role as his wife Olivia, holding her head high as she tries to keep everything (and everyone) together. Nick Sampson is absolutely delightful as their son Samuel, who struggles with everyday life due to his autism, but brings a simplicity and childlike joy to almost every situation. Recent RADA graduate Tom Hanson, appearing alongside his real-life father Alexander, has a natural charm, not to mention great comic timing (he gets many of the best lines on that front), while Amber James impresses in her professional debut as the newest member of the family, Aurelia.
All the action takes place in William and Olivia’s elegant and tasteful home, which, we’re told, has several guest bedrooms, and more bathrooms than can possibly be needed (but which have all nonetheless been cleaned by Olivia prior to the family’s arrival). And the family’s concern for appearances goes far beyond the aesthetic; William would rather disown his daughter than allow her to have a child out of wedlock, and sees nothing at all wrong in demanding that his only grandson Simon continue the Pennington bloodline, whether he wants to or not. But the thin veneer of respectability is about to be threatened, not only by the mass of tensions within the family, but by the political forces gathering outside, in the run-up to the 1997 general election that will change everything.
Despite the Pennington’s problems, The Gathered Leaves still manages to be a very funny and heart-warming play; we all have a family, after all, so there are plenty of moments to relate to. And much of the tension is dispelled, for the family and the audience, by Samuel, because he’s completely oblivious to it. All he wants – all he’s ever wanted, since he was a boy – is to perfectly reenact a scene from Doctor Who with his brother. Giles (Alexander Hanson), meanwhile, is now a doctor, with a wife and children, but he’s still happiest when he’s playing make believe with Samuel. Their relationship is perfectly written and really quite lovely to watch, and through it The Gathered Leaves becomes not just another story about a dysfunctional family, but one that encourages us to consider what family is really all about. Andrew Keatley’s excellent script and an impressive cast combine to make this an exciting and challenging new play, well worth seeing.
Review by Liz Dyer
The Gathered Leaves
The Pennington family have not been in the same room for over 17 years. But on the eve of William’s 75th birthday, all three generations gather with the aim of putting the past well and truly behind them. If only it were that simple. And to make matters worse, they are running out of time – or rather William is – as the world that he has always known is steadily beginning to crumble around him. I have lived long enough to see the unknown unfold in front of my eyes. I have watched it turn from nothing into something. You talk of challenging me… challenging my point of view. My point of view is the product of challenge; I’ve been challenged all my life. What can you say? With your head peeking out from under the umbrella of education for the first time you’re absolutely petrified of feeling your first drop of rain. What can you say?
The Gathered Leaves is a moving, poignant and funny family drama that sees the weight of family history, of reputation, and of expectation, all descend on one family over Easter weekend in 1997.
Jane Asher | Olivia Pennington
Georgina Beedle | Emily Pennington
Clive Francis | William Pennington
Alexander Hanson | Giles Pennington
Tom Hanson | Simon Pennington
Amber James | Aurelia Ndjeya
Nick Sampson | Samuel Pennington
Katie Scarfe | Alice Pennington
Anna Wilson-Jones | Sophie Pennington
Hamish Brewster | Young Giles Pennington
Oliver Buckner | Young Samuel Pennington
Antony Eden | Director
Andrew Keatley | Playwright
James Perkins | Designer
Paul Colwell | Lighting Designer
Ellie Collyer-Bristow | Casting Director
Booking until 15th August 2015
Evenings: Tuesday to Saturday 7.30pm
Matinees: Thursday and Saturday 3.00pm
Important Information: Latecomers will not be admitted
Friday 17th July 2015