It’s a show where ‘hard-hitting’ is a fitting description in a literal sense as well as a figurative one. Family Values is one of those productions set in one room, over one act, and dazzles its audiences with the sheer quantity and quality of drama that can arise from the comings and goings of people in and out of this one room. Can people really escape from the mafia? I’m not convinced they can, particularly in an era of mass communication, and this play does nothing to dispel this assumption.
From the opening scene Trent (Federico Moro) and Liam (Ivan Comisso) are engaged in physical fighting, which only let up to be displaced by arguably even more harrowing dialogue and conversation than the threats and violence, which only steps up a gear once suspicions are raised about May (Virginia Byron) and Frank (Tino Orsini) due to some holes in their backstory. These holes, I hasten to add, are deliberately there to advance the narrative rather than as deficiencies in the writing.
There is a rather inevitable ending for May and Frank, who have crossed the paths of “the family” – without giving it all away, think of the ‘Hotel California’, where you can check out but never leave – but the play takes a non-judgemental position on any of the characters, and all of them came across to me as victims of circumstances.
Interestingly, a mafia code is made clear in the course of the dialogue (and, for those whose retention of specific information given at a fleeting pace is as bad as mine, it’s printed in the show’s programme too).
This particular code is always open to interpretation, however, which provides at least two additional layers to this play, one because Trent and Liam are attempting to free themselves from even being in “the family”, another because points of the code are almost constantly debated – to the point of yet more blows and punches.
There’s as much fake blood on stage as could be expected from the bloodiest of Shakespeare plays, and elsewhere, multiple references to the Bard are the source of some much needed lighter banter in an otherwise foreboding production. I found it slightly odd that pistols and shotguns weren’t to hand, given the mafia connections and the show’s setting – aren’t guns, rightly or wrongly, widely available in the United States? Mind you, their use may have resulted in an even shorter play.
The intensity of this play is engrossing, with some audience responses ranging from gasps to someone openly remarking “Oh sh*t!” as the action once more became rivetingly gripping. The last scene has a deceptive finality to it; initially I thought more or less everything salient was squared away, but on second thoughts there are still some unresolved issues. But it’s a short – if distinctly unsweet – and sharp, harrowing show. Despite the title, the show is not one for all the family, or for one for the fainthearted. This thriller play is a solid and focused piece of theatre, and I would see it again if the opportunity arose in the future.
Review by Chris Omaweng
Trent and Liam have completed one last job which hopefully has freed them from their mafia ties. Set in the Florida Everglades, these two brothers must learn how to become a real family. Just as their bond seems to strengthen, two strangers arrive at their hard-to-find home. Are these people here by accident, or have they been sent by other members of the family? Or worse: are these people closer to Trent and Liam than they realize? A dark, gritty, physical new drama that explores how perilous escaping the past can be.
The international premiere of Family Values. This is the London preview for our full Edinburgh Festival Fringe run.
Ghost Light. Illuminating Theatre.
The Space, 269 Westferry Rd, London E14 3RS