Imagine, if you will, being the parent of a teenager – an experience that some who have been through in reality do not, understandably, wish to recollect. It is 1.00am, and there is some noise going on downstairs. You are not sure whether there is an intruder. You are old and wise enough to not put yourself in danger, but you are curious. So you go downstairs slowly and silently to investigate. In the front room is your teenage daughter and her new boyfriend, both very much undressed and seconds away from, uh, penetration. How do you react?
The exact reaction of Susan (Hilary Tones) to the sight before her is resolutely middle class and British, especially in the light of her previous advice on the subject of safe sex: “No glove, no love!” Her daughter, Ruby (Elle van Knoll), was brought up in the United States but settled in England after Susan went through a messy divorce. Susan eventually finds love, apparently a chance encounter at a supermarket, with David (Sam Parks). Ruby’s lover, Michael (Scott Westwood) would rather not talk about his own family, but later in the play, the nature of David’s relations with Susan force him to. But as Susan observes during yet another disagreement with her teenage charge, “You have family, that’s better than nothing.”
The focus in We Just Keep Going is on the comedy. Susan is remarkably understanding and forbearing – somewhat implausibly so, in fact. Perhaps a soliloquy or two would have brought out her true feelings to the audience, and added gravitas to the play. Ruby, too, finds it difficult to articulate exactly what she is feeling and why; in one scene the two effectively talk through their tears. Ruby comes across as more compromising (and less stroppy!) than most teenagers are sometimes perceived to be. It is, I suppose, not altogether a bad thing if relations do not deteriorate to what one would expect from a soap opera, or indeed, as the play itself mentions, The Jeremy Kyle Show.
The cliff-hanger that takes the audience into the interval is somewhat predictable, but it is performed excellently, as the whole play is. While our four seem to be coping very well, particularly as more and more comes to light, this is not quite one of those plays where a critical incident suddenly shatters a borderline utopian situation. It is clear from the off that not everything is tickety-boo.
Some of the play’s potential poignancy comes across as though it is passed over in favour of laughs and punchlines, and there are plenty of those throughout. Elle van Knoll’s script is funnier than most stand-up comedy acts, and provides many side-splitting moments. No one character gets all or a majority of the best lines – they’re spread out fairly evenly, making this a truly ensemble piece. This is not sort of funny. This is not the kind of funny that you understand and politely titter at. This is laugh-out-loud funny, and for a debut play, it’s a roaring success: the writer has an extremely bright future ahead if future plays are to build on existing talent.
I don’t think I laughed this much since I saw The Play That Goes Wrong – and this play goes a lot deeper than that one, exploring the consequences of errors in life, as opposed to errors on stage. I was asked recently what makes a five-star review, as opposed to anything below that. I thought about it for a moment and decided that a show is extra special if I didn’t want it to end because I was enjoying myself so much. This play resolutely falls into that exceptional category of show. If a merry heart is as good as medication, We Just Keep Going is not only a highly outstanding comedy, it could also be beneficial for your health. Theatre at its funniest. Bravo!
Review by Chris Omaweng
WE JUST KEEP GOING By Elle Van Knoll
Hilary Tones (Wire in the Blood, Persuasion, Swallows and Amazons- Vaudeville Theatre) plays Susan with Sam Parks (Les Miserables, Silent Witness) as David. Recent RADA Graduate Scott Westwood (Sam Wanamaker Festival – The Globe, Inigo – The Pleasance) will be playing Michael with Elle van Knoll (Atlantis) as Ruby. Helen Oakleigh (NDTC Award for “Best Director”) is announced to direct. This sharp new comedy drama has a three-week run at The Hen & Chickens Theatre in Islington from 1-19 September 2015.
Watching her daughter Ruby (Elle van Knoll) grow into a young adult, Susan (Hilary Tones) must find a way to forge their fragile relationship before it’s too late. A typical relationship between a teenager and her mother quickly turns into more than meets the eye, as the past, and the men in their lives, keep finding a way to come between them. A touching play filled with mother-daughter explosions, unexpected turns, awkward sexual encounters, teenage confusion, and a great deal of love, new and old. Mother, daughter, father or son, this hysterical and heart-breaking story about change, and facing the un-faceable will remind you how unconditional love conquers all, even as family are tap-dancing on your final nerve!
WE JUST KEEP GOING
HEN & CHICKENS
109 St Paul’s Rd, London N1 2NA
1-19 Sep 2015
Saturday Matinee 3pm
Tickets £15 & £12 concs
Box Office: 020 7354 8246
Thursday 3rd September 2015