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Table by Tanya Ronder at The Questors | Review

Table - Photo by Robert Vass
Table – Photo by Robert Vass

Okay, so technically Table should, perhaps, have been called Table and Chairs. Either way, it isn’t just about demonstrating the versatility of the humble table, used for conversation, eating, having meetings and even the sort of thing that should really come under ‘bedroom activity’. Some concentration is required here, partly because twenty-two characters are played by nine actors, and partly because the play’s timespan is from 1898 to 2013. Thus, for instance, we see Sarah Best (Jordan Fowler) as a child and then at intermittent time periods through to middle age, and the same goes for her son Gideon (Neil Dickins).

Choices of song often befit the era – a prepubescent Su-Lin (Ting Ting Cui) performs a foreign language version of the Frozen tune ‘Let It Go’ in the early twenty-first century, whereas previous generations were more inclined to sing church music, including the hymn ‘Dear Lord and Father of Mankind’. The bulk of the show’s religious content, however, comes from a group of missionary nuns stationed in Tanganyika, now part of Tanzania: their piety is effectively balanced out by a later scene involving a Sixties commune in which anything and everything had to be decided on by committee. One scene descends into chaos as heightened emotions spill over into incivility, and accusations and counter-accusations fly. The term ‘soap opera’ crossed my mind.

It was interesting to observe Margaret Fowler (Emma Kennedy) enforce family time at the dinner table, with her son Albert (Tony Sears) not even permitted to relieve himself. The irony was not lost on this discerning audience that Margaret threatens Sarah with a thrashing merely for having stood up when Margaret herself is also standing, having failed to lead by example, a case of ‘do as I say, not as I do’. Details of that nature are abound in this dense but intriguing production, and being able to see various characters’ facial expressions in a small studio theatre space is, I’d say, almost essential to fully appreciating this play.

In 2013, a middle-aged Gideon talking to a middle-aged Michelle (Lucy Aley-Parker, standing in for an indisposed Alexandra McDevitt at the performance I attended, at such short notice a script was in hand), his son Anthony (Oscar Gill) and granddaughter Su-Lin. Their story permeates, puzzle piece by puzzle piece, in between the rest of the action set in previous decades. I found Su-Lin’s over-enthusiastic and excessively bubbly nature rather irritating to say the least, though I imagine others may find it charming and delightful.

Events, alas, are not strictly in forward chronological order, though most scenes are sufficiently lengthy such that the show never feels rushed. The cast do a sterling job, and there are some engaging and amusing scenes. But there doesn’t seem to be an overarching purpose to it all – what is the point being made? It feels like it’s merely a series of events that could have credibly happened (the play is a work of fiction), nothing less and nothing more. The only thing to take away from Table is that, as Jean-Paul Sartre put it, hell is other people. It’s enough to make one consider the life of a hermit.

Prevailing attitudes within society in different eras and situations are portrayed well. There’s even a family tree in the programme to help patrons navigate their way around this rather complicated plot. Seeing adult actors play child characters to the extent they are here is either something to be savoured or endured, dependent on one’s perspective – and patience. It’s not, in the end, the meatiest of shows, but it is well-structured and, in this production, well-performed.

3 Star Review

Review by Chris Omaweng

To celebrate his marriage, David Best crafts a table which is passed down from generation to generation.

The table travels across continents and time, becoming the centrepiece for families and communities. It bears witness to their fights and their love-making, their coming together and their splitting apart. It journeys from England to a convent in Africa, to a hippy commune in Herefordshire, before ending up in present day south London. Here, Gideon, great-grandson of the original craftsman, confronts the family that he abandoned but now longs for.

This funny and thoughtful tale spans six generations of the Best family and explores belonging, identity and the things that mean the most.

The Questors Present
By Tanya Ronder
A century of family conflict, and a table that sees it all.
20 Sep – 28 Sep 19 | The Studio


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