We Just Keep Going
Paul Johnson | 04 Sep 2015 11:30am
Above: Hilary Tones & Sam Parks
What a joy to see a straightforward modern play featuring real people in real situations. The issues are how the past informs the present and the importance of forgiveness and finding ways to move on. Warmest congratulations to Elle van Knoll, not only did she write and co-produce this enjoyable piece but she plays one of the lead roles in a four hander. Skilled work from director, Helen Oakleigh who makes it all flow so naturally too.
Susan (Hilary Tones) and her 16-year-old daughter Ruby (Elle van Knoll) have just resettled in London although Ruby has grown up in America. Cue to wonder what went wrong and listen attentively for hints in this well paced play which pulls several narrative surprises. Eventually – over the nine years that the play covers – Susan starts a new relationship with David (Sam Parks) and Ruby has an agreeable boyfriend Michael (Scott Westwood). There’s a great deal more to all of this but I’ll spare you the spoilers.
Tones is a delight as the nervous, twitchy, anxious Susan trying so hard to do the right thing for Ruby and more often than not getting it wrong. Parks does well too as the troubled, guilt-wrought but appealing David trying so hard to make a go of things with Susan – totally plausible. Westwood is a fine actor with terrific control. His character has to deal with a severe shock and his performance is very convincing, from lighthearted fun to brittle bonhomie to embittered fury. The Hen and Chickens is so small and intimate that actors are under near-televisual scrutiny. I could see Westwood’s throat quivering with emotion. Fine acting.
But the evening really belongs to Elle van Knoll. She takes Ruby from a tetchy, rude, awkward teenager to a balanced happy 25-year-old planning a promising future. Along the way we see her being sexy with Westwood, furious with her mother, utterly distressed, puzzled, incredulous and much more. It really is a stellar performance. What’s more this play is van Knoll’s debut as a playwright which – given the skill with which the dialogue is written – is pretty hard to believe. Even the simple device of pegging several scenes on Ruby’s successive birthdays so that we know where we are in time is very effective. More plays please, Elle.
I laughed a lot. Yes, this is how family members behave and much of what happens in hilariously recognisable. But it isn’t really a comedy. There’s scene toward the end in which Susan and Ruby finally confront each other, their past and their regrets which is almost unbearably moving. In the end they decide that their only real option is just to keep going. And that allows for an optimistic (and witty) ending. Nothing is ever going to be cut and dried any more than it is in real life. Bravo.
Below: Hilary Tones & Elle van Knoll
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- : 03/09/2015