Theatre 503 showcases the newest writing in theatrical evolution, and as such often deals with issues current in public consciousness. Cans is no exception and is a responsive piece of theatre which defies attempts to evade a subject no one ever wants to talk about.
Len and Jen, an uncle / niece duo, are respectively the brother and daughter of a deceased radio celebrity, family patriarch and… alleged sexual predator. They’ve lost their ‘national treasure’ to a £1800-a-night suicide in a suite at the Savoy. Like puppies at a hopeless rug they tussle back and forth in a treacherous journey to ostensibly finding out whether or not he actually ‘did it’. But with the revelation that his guilt will never be confirmed nor disproved, it becomes evident that the culpability of the man in question is hardly relevant, really, to those left behind.
Graham O’Mara’s Len, seemingly mawkish and almost overly large to begin with, quickly convinces otherwise. His characterisation is razor sharp, observed and written with precision that will make you laugh and cry. Fully rounded out and given life by a highly skilled actor, Len becomes an intensely real, painfully funny, layabout boozer with the very best of hearts. His self-pitying beginnings are routed only in a lack of confidence borne from being the underachieving sibling. Jen, is a well-drawn, sullen uni student who is all at sea – she has lost her hero and her father all in one fell swoop. Jennifer Clement never indulges Jen, but takes her audience into the chilling waters of a teen on the brink of adulthood. As she deals with the abandonment and shame brought by the actions of a wayward parent we see an informed and intelligent girl, whose constant self analysis so often falls short of the mark. It’s a massive learning curve for Jen, and perhaps a bigger one for the reluctant Len, who unwittingly surpasses himself in providing the exact figure that Jen needs there and now. It is this odd pair which is thrown before us into the fluorescent-tube-lit man-cave, the garage of the deceased, full of the flotsam of his life and, by the conclusion, emptied of it.
Slade never shies away from the uncomfortable subject at hand – the painful inflictions on the innocent, when the storms hits, of the cruel press, well-meaning friends, the desecrators of Jen’s father’s grave; the ability of man to consolidate pain rather than alleviate it, is pinpointed by allusions to this outside world of mud-slinging. And in this storm an ungainly relationship takes root in the sheltering garage, a relationship which displays heartbreakingly the meaning, the very role of family; which is to rally, unconditionally, awkwardly, with banter and with everything that remains unsaid; to rally because blood is thicker than water and really what more do we have? Cans is a beautifully rendered grasp of familial ties which strengthen under awful circumstance. Certainly for Len there is a salvation in the death of his brother and so the pair start to heal one another through the ritualistic sharing of a couple of ‘cans’ of hope.
Through his writing Slade sloughs off the frenetic tabloidisms with which we cover and comfort ourselves in the midst of a media’s constant battle to lay blame. It’s uncomfortable and he exposes the mammoth problems with notions of fault – Should a man be held accountable for past crimes committed in an exuberant youth? Can you ever truly know someone? And are you fat…or just pie-curious? He holds each relationship up as singular and you can’t say fairer than that. Cans is well worth the trek to the 503. Take your niece, take your layabout uncle. Just go see it!
Review by Annemarie Hiscott
The last year of Dad’s life was a fucking nightmare. But you know what? That was one year in fifty. Rest of his life was pretty much awesome for him, you know? And I keep saying to myself – one year in fifty – that still makes his life, like, 98 percent happy, right? That’s pretty good statistics, right?
Jen’s Dad was a chat show host, a national treasure. But now he’s dead and Jen’s getting spat at in supermarkets. To make matters worse, Uncle Len has made it his mission to help her get over it. Hiding from a very hostile world in a very shitty garage, Len and Jen down cider, drown mice, talk crap, mend cats, share painful secrets, tell appalling jokes and try to work out whether either of them has any kind of future whatsoever. Stuart Slade’s searingly funny debut play is about death, betrayal and the possibility of forgiveness. And cider. Cans is a dangerously intimate piece, charting the murky areas of unknowing that exist between us and the people we love most in the world.
Cast: @ClementJen and @omaralad
#Cans, @etchtheatre, @kuleshovtheatre and/or @theatre503
Theatre503, Kuleshov and Etch present Cans by Stuart Slade
4th – 29th November
Tuesday – Saturday 7.45pm, Sunday 5pm
Tuesday 11th November 2014