One of the most surreal productions in a real-life setting I’ve come across over the years, Crossed Wires is at least an appropriate name for this show. There’s a surprisingly large cast for a production in a small gallery space. There’s neither programme nor cast list, which ends up being somewhat immaterial as the audience is able to follow the narrative sufficiently. Perhaps Liver and Lung Productions prefer its audiences not to know who’s who, like certain rugby teams that don’t like to put names on the backs of their rugby shirts, because – so the philosophy goes – no one person is greater than the team.
‘Whatever,’ as any of the daughters of central characters Tony and Julie Smith might have put it (there are three daughters, which I have deduced to be, in no particular order, Natalie, Sarah and Alex, plus the eldest sibling, Paul). I’m not quite sure what this show is trying to be. Comedy? Political satire? A northern version of BBC Television’s ‘My Family’? A social commentary on where we are today with regards to attitudes towards the LGBT community? It’s not so much that this is a show that’s difficult to categorise so much as it is so ambitious in its scope that it feels more than a tad unfocused.
There’s one of those ladies – the town gossip – that pokes her nose in other people’s business but in a way that allows her to continue doing so without being ostracised by one and all. I even have one in my own London suburban street: not even the apparent coldness of the capital’s (un)neighbourly attitudes could stop such people. She’s equally enchanting and irritating, and by the end, a hilarious character, even if an exaggerated caricature.
It’s the father figure, Tony, which I found less believable and credible as time goes on. He’s played by an actor at least twenty years (very likely more) too young for the part, and his words, often threatening or otherwise condescending, seldom if ever match his (lack of) actions. I found him very annoying, and unnecessarily uncouth, with parenting skills that therefore contradicted themselves. His lines were, sadly, often very rushed, making him difficult to understand in more ways than one.
Alex’s complaints of “It’s not fair!” and her father’s disrespectful nature could not simply be taken as typical, traditional teenager complaints. Tony is even hurt by – wait for it – one of his daughters demonstrating an ability to do something of her own accord (surely a reason to be pleased rather than upset). His views on his son’s homosexuality are illogical and, frankly, downright stupid. Such is the power of theatre, however, and Tony’s ability to get under my skin in this way must mean there’s some very good acting going on. It’s not like I was disinterested in the play or anything of the sort.
There’s one telling point, and one made far more explicit in Ghost (both the musical and the earlier motion picture), although the key difference here is that the same point concerns every one of the Smiths. There are three little words that would have made a whole load of difference to the strained relationships going on here, all the more so if they were meant. This family, with its multiple issues, not helped by a significant number of redundancies made by a major employer in the town, just seemed prime candidates for The Jeremy Kyle Show. I’m convinced they would have benefited from lie detector tests and some trademark sharp words from the host.
The show’s ending came across to me as didactic. Epilogue-like, it almost lazily ties up several loose ends without resolving others. It was a rather exhausting evening listening to so much bickering and anger, and with both parents sometimes giving major focus on relatively trivial matters, particularly in context, quite a frustrating one too. But if you’re up for something different, here’s a show that very definitely fits that bill.
Review by Cris Omaweng
Meet Tony Smith – loving husband, doting father, murderer? Set in the heartlands of urban Yorkshire, Crossed Wires is a domestic drama following the lives of the Smith family and their daily trials and tribulations. Tony’s life is profoundly changed one day, when he witnesses the aftermath of a violent crime. Caught between unspoken promises and the law, Tony must battle with forces beyond his control to prove his innocence and defend his reputation. Meanwhile matriarch Julie, consumed by a desire to watch her kids succeed – yet do right by her husband – strives to hold the family together.Writer and Director: Hannah Shields
Producer: Vanessa Gstettenbauer
London United Kingdom