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A CurtainUp London Review
Jordan Tannahill's play starts very well with the bereaved parents, sculptor Deborah Shaun-Hastings (Lucy Robinson) and her politician husband, Michael Shaun-Hastings (Todd Boyce) laying the table for dinner. Three guests arrive, nervous and giggly Tamara Dermot (Lisa Stevenson), her psychotherapist husband, Bill Dermot (Alex Lowe) and their grumpy teenage son Curtis Dermot (David Leopold). I found myself asking questions, "Who are they? Why are they here? Who is the sixth place at the table laid for? Are the parents to blame?" as Tannahill slowly and grippingly reveals some of the answers but leaving us to reach our own conclusions.
What this play does is not to oversimplify the bullying and the victim of bullying. While Deborah may see the issue as clear cut, the rights and wrongs of her gay son being victimised, as the play develops we realise that it is more complicated as both sets of parents will be revealed to have some liability or responsibility for the way things have turned out, including the parenting of their sons. So starts a roller coaster of an emotional ride as we are told that Curtis would always say "Hello Faggot" to Joel and that shit was smeared on Joel's locker. The director initially places Curtis with his back to us but we can see the faces of the four parents. This keeps Curtis' contribution and sympathy towards him a mystery until later in the play.
Deborah starts the memories with her tribute to her son with a box of his achievements, the medals, the certificates from school, the prizes for his poetic or literary achievements. Then there are the photographs of Joel and all these mementoes serve to flesh out the family loss as they describe what Joel's hopes were for his unfulfilled future. Then there is the reading of the letters by Deborah and Curtis to each other. Deborah had asked Curtis to write this letter and bring it with him to the resolution dinner. Deborah's letter has the heart breaking description as to how she found the body of her son, lying in the bath with a pool of blood on the floor. Curtis apologises for what happened in his letter to Joel's parents. This makes for rivetting drama and is all totally believable as Deborah's breaks out in temper with the pain of a mother who has lost her son.
As the Shaun-Hastings reveal that their son suffered from depression, this is leapt upon by the Dermotts as maybe a contributing factor in his suicide. Bill cuffs Curtis and we see Curtis as a child victim of abuse and Deb and Michel react strongly to the violence. Later Curtis reveals something that Deborah was unaware of because she had been too poorly to watch any of the TV and newspaper coverage of her son's death. The cracks start to open up and Bill with his psychotherapist's hat on says, "A lot of people let Joel down."
The production from director Michael Yale has pitch perfect performances. Lucy Robinson as Deborah is fragile, railing and has irrational moments, David Leopold's Curtis is awkward and embarrassed and at times sympathetic, the two fathers keep in control and Lisa Stevenson as Tamara is torn between doing the right thing and defending her son and often sounding trite, which is instantly picked up on by Deborah.
This excellently written family drama satisfies on many levels, casting light on bullying and bullies and the need of families for atonement. This play is based on the suicide of a teenager from Ottawa after homophobic bullying at school. We need to understand how school children can bully those whose sexuality may be different, educate them and to put measures in to support those experiencing bullying. Jordan Tannahill's play ends on an ambiguous note but I felt a hopeful one as Curtis comes back in to talk to Deborah on his own.
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Written by Jordan Tannahill
Directed by Michael Yale
Starring: Todd Boyce, David Leopold, Alex Lowe, Lucy Robinson, Lisa Stevenson
Set and Costume Design: Zahra Mansouri
Lighting Design: Nic Farman
Sound Design: Christopher Prosho
Running time: One hour 15 minutes without an interval
Box Office: 0844 847 1652
Booking to 20th May 2017
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on 29th April 2017 evening performance at The Finborough, 118 Finborough Road, London SW10 9ED (Tube: Earls Court)
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