There’s a touch of Mike Leigh to Chloe Moss’ new play The Gatekeeper, premiering at the Royal Exchange’s Studio. With just the one set, Moss tells the tale of a family reunion – on the surface, all is well, but there’s a whole ocean of tension bubbling underneath. Gradually, secrets are revealed about the family until the old adage Philip Larkin proposed about what your parents can do to you is proved beyond a shadow of a doubt.
The action centres around Stacey’s birthday – her parents and brother have arranged to meet up at the family’s holiday’s home for a weekend in the Lake District. However, when Stacey’s brother Rob unexpectedly brings his new girlfriend (and old childhood friend of Stacey) Angela with him, it throws the whole family into turmoil.
It’s a simple story, but so effective. This is mostly due to Moss’ ear for dialogue, which is quite brilliant. She perfectly nails the tensions between ageing parents and their grown-up children: no matter how close they may appear, it soon becomes apparent that nobody in this family really knows each other at all. The way that Moss writes parents Mike and Julia is perfect, good-naturedly bickering during the first half, before slowly but surely revealing the true nature of their marital problems.
The strong cast of five actors make for a very effective unit: Kate Coogan is quite brilliant as Stacey, teetering on the edge in both her professional and personal life, while trying desperately to put on a show for her parents. Ian Redford, so good in last year’s Royal Exchange production of A View From The Bridge, gives a masterful performance as Mike, the father who seems avuncular and good-natured, but is revealed to be a bit of a monster.
Tricia Kelly gets most of the laughs as Julia, but there’s added poignancy behind her performance as the alcohol takes hold and her misery starts pouring out. Nick Moss and Helen Carter make up the talented cast as Rob and Angela, the couple whose relationship is not all it seems and do a beautiful job of slowly revealing the truth about themselves.
Although it’s a dark piece (especially in the second half), it’s also very funny with Moss drawing on the tensions between parents and children to produce some excellent lines. “Some people shouldn’t have pets…they should be sterilised” muses Julia at one point, to plenty of chuckles from the audience – the balance between the beautifully observed lines and the scarcely disguised conflict is very well handled by Moss, director Tessa Walker and the cast.
Angela’s backstory is an intriguing one as well, and gives rise to one of the best moments in the play where her and Stacey recreate their childhood dance to Madonna’s ‘Like A Prayer’ – in an instance, all of Stacey’s tension is gone, and she’s back to being the little girl in her bedroom without a care in the world. It’s a scene superbly well-handled by both Coogan and Carter.
To say too much about all the family secrets that are revealed would be to spoil things – this is a play that is probably best seen with as little prior knowledge as possible. Hopefully The Gatekeeper will be touring soon, or at least transferring to a bigger venue; it’s a powerful play, deserving of a wide audience.