Reared is two stories in one. The first is a kitchen sink comedy drama about the tribulations of an Irish-English family in London. The central character is middle-aged Eileen (Shelley Atkinson), who lives in a small house with her 15-year-old daughter Caitlin (Danielle Phillips), her husband Stuart (Daniel Crossley) and his mother Nora (Paddy Glynn). With Stuart seeming to pull little of the weight, Eileen is struggling with two physical and emotional burdens: Nora has dementia, and is getting worse, though both Stuart and Caitlin are unable to see it. Caitlin, meanwhile, is pregnant – and won’t reveal the identity of the father.
Sarah Davey-Hull’s production progresses through ten scenes, each taking place in the kitchen of the family’s home, that trace the progress of these two situations and gradually bring context and depth to the five characters – the fifth being Colin (Rohan Nedd), Caitlin’s gay best friend, and the father of her baby.
The highlight of this production is Atkinson’s performance as Eileen, which is full of warmth, sadness and patience and rings true throughout. The rest of the cast are engaging and committed too, especially Glynn and Phillips. Theatre company Bold & Saucy has a mission to support female perspectives, and Reared certainly lives up to that with aplomb.
But while there are plenty of truthful and bittersweet moments in John Fitzpatrick’s script, it doesn’t flow all that well. It flip-flops from the raucous to the heartbreaking, and this makes it difficult to plug into the story, meaning it doesn’t completely work as a naturalistic drama. The hazy, post-rock-esque scene change music and the muted bright colours of the set give the production a faintly psychedelic feel; I’d like to have seen this ramped up, to make more of the weirdness factor.
The second story is the story of social evolution, of familial inheritance, of events and decisions having consequences that ripple down the ages, with each new generation learning from the mistakes of the past. This story takes place in the shadows, in the narrative gaps between the events of the first story. And it took a long time after leaving the theatre for it to click into place for me.
We learn, midway through, that Eileen has a secret from her past, a period in time culminating in a terrible event that shaped the lives of the family from then on – but was never spoken of again. Eileen is lucky: she’s able to eventually open up to Caitlin about what happened.
Nora is less so. What seem to be traumatic memories from her own past tumble out in moments of confusion, which become more pronounced as her dementia progresses. A fact about Nora’s relationship with Stuart emerges later in the story. We’re left to draw some of our conclusions, but it seems clear that in Nora’s past lie painful experiences from a time when shame and private grief were buried.
And then there’s Caitlin. She’s troubled enough by her body image to have unprotected sex so as to not remain the only virgin in school, though unlike the older generations, she has the resources to be able to discuss why it happened with Colin. But the play does not tell us about the outcome of her pregnancy: she’s pregnant all the way through, until suddenly she’s not. What we do see suggests she may have had a miscarriage, but it remains unconfirmed, Eileen and Stuart seemingly unable to address the topic in the final scene. Yes, things are easier for them in many ways than they would have been for Nora – but learning how to talk about these difficult, painful and vitally important subjects is still a monumental task for all of us.
Reared is at Theatre503 until April 28th. For more details, click here.