It’s not easy for Eileen (Shelley Atkinson), but it’s difficult to feel much sympathy for someone trying to deal with what are, essentially, ‘first world problems’. She’s at a stage of life where her daughter, Caitlin (Danielle Phillips), is still in full-time education, but her stepmother-in-law, Nora (a delightful Paddy Glynn) is also living in the family home, though it is increasingly proving an unsuitable environment for an older person to be, given that the bedrooms are upstairs and there is no stairlift.
But Eileen’s husband Stuart (Daniel Crossley) is rather oblivious to what is really going on, busying himself in his garage. A serious discussion about placing Nora in a care home – not just bunging her somewhere geographically convenient for their visits to her, but actually going around seeing places for themselves, reading the inspection reports published by the Care Quality Commission, and so on – cannot take place. Completing the set of on-stage characters is Colin (Rohan Nedd), a school friend of young Caitlin – a relatively brief exchange between the two teenagers is both hilarious in its absurdity and significant in helping clarify matters (well, sort of) after the show’s critical incident, which happens fairly early on.
The nature of many of the punchlines – mostly short and pithy, makes parts of the script a tad stilted. There is at least one long-form story, from Nora, about the potato famine. The characters, though well developed, are not without stereotypical traits – the woman of pensionable age who is no longer in charge of her mental faculties, the DIY lover who can’t fix himself dinner let alone repair a tumble dryer, the overbearing authoritarian mother figure whose strictness only leads her daughter to behave in ways which she might not have done had she been cut a reasonable amount of slack, and teenagers who can’t communicate with one another without generous dosages of
It comes across as more situation comedy than serious drama, even if the reactions to some of the more bizarre happenings are highly realistic: Eileen almost explodes in horror at finding what transpires to be a necklace in her bowl of soup, meant to be a pleasant surprise from Stuart. Problems in the family pile on top of one another, but the analogy of a motorway pile-up doesn’t quite work, because the pacing varies between sluggish and steady; it’s never as brisk as the one-act running time would suggest.
There’s a running theme of withholding certain information in the name of not wanting to hurt another party, only for the hurt to be compounded later because, in effect, secrets have been kept. The set looks very much like this is a home that has been lived in for generations – there are enough chairs to go around the dinner table, but none of them match, for instance. The production is watchable, and the underlying humour helps to maintain interest. Not a perfect show, but all things considered, this is a strong and bittersweet portrayal of modern city living.
Review by Chris Omaweng
Under one roof, three generations of Anglo-Irish women try to find space for a fourth. As Caitlin waits for life to begin, her grandmother Nora fears the end and Eileen frets about them both.
Between her mother-in-law’s incipient dementia and her daughter’s struggle for independence, Eileen finds herself battling to adjust her household and wrangle her husband. The Constitution of Ireland holds that the family is the cornerstone of society and at the heart of the family is the mother. As Eileen struggles to find some sort of control over her life she begins to see that the enemy might not be a controlling mother-in-law or an ineffectual husband but rather the roles they have been forced into.
Writer John Fitzpatrick
Director Sarah Davey-Hull
Produced by bold & saucy theatre company
Designer Sammy Dowson
Sound Designer Dominic Kennedy
Lighting Designer Jamie Platt
Movement Director Vicki Manderson
Fight Director Bethan Clark
Eileen Shelley Atkinson
Stuart Daniel Crossley
Nora Paddy Glynn
Colin Rohan Nedd
Caitlin Danielle Phillips
Wednesday 4th – Saturday 28th April 2018
Theatre503, 503 Battersea Park Road, London SW11 3BW