In The March on Russia, every time someone enters the house, the kettles goes on. This established ritual is crucial to the atmosphere of Alice Hamilton’s revival of David Storey’s domestic drama. The whistle of the kettle indicates a warmth, a settling in, a comfort, but also a slight distress as the noise half-drowns out the conversation.
This rhythm find its echo in the dialogue between Mr and Mrs Pasmore (Ian Gelder and Sue Wallace), an older couple in 1980s Yorkshire celebrating their 60th anniversary. They conduct an unflinching back-and-forth that’s had many years to solidify in its humour, affection and gentle teasing. Gelder and Wallace are sublime and easily the best part of the show. Together, they sculpt an undeniably authentic relationship full of compromises, crossword clues, unspoken resentment, and undying affection. Wallace is particularly watchable, revealing an enormous amount via a real economy of movement.
As they reflect on their years together, including Mr Pasmore’s wartime and coal-mining days, and Mrs Pasmore’s caring for the three children, what is unsaid begins to scream like the whistling kettle. It’s heartbreaking to realise that Mr Pasmore spends as much time retelling his war experiences, which lasted a couple of years at most, as he does the rest of his life.
The three now-grown children later arrive at their parents’ home to surprise them. With the youngest Wendy (Sarah Belcher) going through a divorce, the eldest Eileen (Connie Walker) trying to keep her family together, and the professor Colin (Colin Tierney) dealing with depression, their turbulent lives share the spotlight.
Their performances, however, are more muddled, and blur the otherwise clear relationships depicted. Belcher is the exception, who excellently demonstrates and debunks the belief that parents love their children equally. The dialogue between brother and sisters is stilted, and not in the way it might be with estranged siblings. And their relationships with their parents – apart from Wendy’s with her mother – remain unsettled.
The politics that inform the family dynamic are easier to read. Mrs Pasmore explains to her shocked relations her decision to vote Conservative, whilst Wendy is an Independent MP, influenced by her family and her soon-to-be ex-husband. Storey cleverly weaves political tensions into familial ones, noting that political stances can be as easily informed by personal relationships as ideology – if those two things can be distinguished anyway.
What makes this revival work is Hamilton’s deftness at creating an atmosphere at once familiar and unique. She’s smart to let the silences lie and through them shows that repetitive habitats – like making tea – create a strong, unbreakable and sometimes cruel pattern for people who have lived together for a long time. The kettle is always on the verge of being switched on.
The March on Russia is on until 7 October 2017 at the Orange Tree Theatre. Click here for more details.