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My Brother’s Keeper? at The Playground Theatre | Review

My Brother's Keeper? - Credit Bertie Beor-Roberts.
My Brother’s Keeper? – Credit Bertie Beor-Roberts.

It’s Mr Pittorini (Richard James Lawler) that has my sympathy in My Brother’s Keeper? He appears to be in a comatose state, though one can’t quite be sure, but is nonetheless a constant presence through the bickering between Samuel (David Partridge) and Tony (Josh Taylor), the sons of a couple known only as Mr and Mrs Stone (Andy de la Tour and Kathryn Pogson). There’s something about the superfluity of casting too many characters as hospital staff, as well as the tendency of the National Health Service to be on the receiving end of Government cutbacks, that makes just the one staff member on the ward, Terry (William Reay) quite appropriate. At least the patients are in wards and aren’t being looked after whilst in draughty corridors.

I must be careful not to give too much away. Mrs Stone, concerned about the overall state of her husband, not helped by his refusal to eat, calls Samuel (whom she calls Sammy, much to his rather petty annoyance). Whatever was discussed in that phone call proves sufficient for him to take the time out to pay his parents a visit, having not seen them for some years. Samuel is a business executive, claiming to be responsible for the livelihoods of some 4,000 people. Tony seems to have followed his father into the entertainment industry from what I could gather – at one point he refers to himself a “coffee table Marxist”, whatever that means. Anyway, the context of Mr Stone’s deteriorating condition means that the brothers are forced into conflict and confrontation, on one level simply by being in the same room.

What follows is the uncovering of some very deep-rooted resentments that stretch beyond mere sibling rivalry. The circumstances and life events that the Stone brothers regurgitate are very specific, but they are nonetheless broadly relatable to many – a relationship that didn’t last the course, a tragedy within the family, sons who don’t think much of their parents’ parenting skills.

Accusations flow freely – Samuel should have done ‘this’, Tony should have done ‘that’, ‘Mum’ should have done ‘the other thing’; ‘Dad’ is only somewhat spared as he repeatedly slips in and out of consciousness.

This all sounds quite undesirable, at least in terms of a production one would wish to see. But there is plenty of nuance in a play that looks at family dynamics and the sons’ response to Mr Stone’s pleas for acceptance. The ‘will to live’ comes up too, posited by Terry. Has Mr Stone had quite enough? Or does he simply possess an inner knowledge that he does not have the strength and/or capacity to see this latest health setback through? As for the brothers, they could hardly be more different – evidenced even in the way they dress: Samuel’s sharp business suit makes him look slightly overdressed, especially against Tony’s more informal look.

It is a deep and complex piece of theatre. Mr Stone, having suffered a stroke, struggles to get the right words out, though his family really ought to have been more grateful than they were that he is intelligible at all, given how some stroke patients have slurred or garbled speech. It’s interesting, too, that a generation ago this is how families communicated, face to face, in a room, talking about past, present and future. Of course, many people still do this today, but in the digital era a lot of communication is done remotely. If the play were written today, I wonder whether it would include, for instance, an angry exchange of messages between the brothers on WhatsApp or something.

More ground is covered in this one-act play than some plays cover in two. There are points at which Nigel Williams’ script could have been delivered with a tad more vigour, but otherwise this is a thought-provoking and poignant play, laced with some dark humour that provides a layer of comic relief from the many problems that come to the surface.

4 stars

Review by Chris Omaweng

Following a stroke, seventy-four-year-old actor Mr Stone lies dying in a near-empty hospital ward. His two sons, Tony and Sam, together again after several years, try to reconcile their fractured family before it’s too late. In doing so, they confront each other, their past, and the imminent loss of their father.

Nigel Williams’ play explores the complexities of adult fraternal bonds, when shared childhoods and personal histories work as hard to repel as they do to bind, and poses the question of whether the shared love of a dying father can overcome the damage done.

CAST:
Mr Stone: Andy de la Tour
Mrs Stone: Kathryn Pogson
Sam Stone: David Partridge
Tony Stone: Josh Taylor
Terry: William Reay

Director: Craig Gilbert
Lighting Designer: Chris Withers
Sound Designer: Ben Grant
Set & Costume: Victoria Spewing

TINTED FRAME PRODUCTIONS
In association with
THE PLAYGROUND THEATRE
presents
MY BROTHER’S KEEPER?
By Nigel Williams
Directed by Craig Gilbert

The Playground Theatre
February 26 to March 23 2019

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