Reviews West End & Central Published 23 February 2011

Our Private Life

Royal Court, Jerwood Downstairs ⋄ 11th February - 12th March 2011

Pedro Miguel Rozo’s family parable.

Natasha Tripney

Brothers in arms. Photo: Johan Persson

Pedro Miguel Rozo’s self-labelled ‘family parable’ is set in a Columbian village on the cusp of becoming a town. Despite the opening of a shiny new shopping mall with its promise of material pleasures and a veneer of urban sophistication, the community still operates like a village; rumours can still spread like a spark through dry grass and the currents of gossip can still pull a man down.

Nothing is truly private in such a place and Rozo emphasises this by muddying the line between interior and exterior. The characters thoughts are often spoken out loud so that not only the audience but also the other characters, can hear them. It is not uncommon for one character to admonish another for not thinking more quietly.

Our Private Life is the first of two plays presented by the Royal Court along with readings and seminars and a second play, Aleksey Scherbak’s Remembrance Day, as part of what they’re terming an International Playwrights Season.

A rumour is doing the rounds that Carlos’s father molested his twelve year old farmhand and this makes Carlos,  a “bi-polar compulsive fantasist”, worry that his father may have done the same thing to him when he was a boy. He turns first to Sergio, his older brother (or half-brother, as it turns out), whose marriage and success as a businessman have failed to endear him to their father, and then to his psychiatrist, whose willingness to help Carlos excavate his childhood memories owes much to his desire to own a nicer car.

Rozo’s play, presented in a translation by Simon Scardifield, has a sensational quality and the characters make constant reference to the way unfolding events resemble something out of a daytime soap or a movie. In this light, the performances are pitched at an appropriate level of artifice, encompassing extremes of emotion, with Colin Morgan’s pipe cleaner-limbed Carlos exploding into tears like a hysterical toddler before trying to do away with himself with a butter knife, or the whole family perkily embarking on a doomed Christmas dinner before this too breaks down around them.

Morgan came to prominence in the Young Vic’s adaption of Vernon God Little and indeed Lyndsey Turner’s production shares something of that novel’s Technicolor excess as well as certain parallels of plot; there are also definite echoes of the films of Almodovar in the play’s manner of exaggeration, its relationship with the absurd, and in scenes in which Ishia Bennison’s volatile matriarch flings her prosthetic breast across the kitchen table.

Morgan is springy and boyish, his eyes suggesting both damage and a degree of glee at the chaos wrought. Bennison, as his mother, hits on an intriguing balance as a woman trying to protect her husband from the waves of accusation and ultimately shielding only herself; she maintains a shell that only occasional breaks. Adrian Schiller has the requisite air of tainted professional dignity as the psychiatrist whose wardrobe and whiskey of choice improve in quality as paranoia becomes increasingly rampant in town and his services are more frequently called upon.

Shunt’s Lizzie Clachlan’s set consists of a versatile green sliding panel that resembles a Japanese shōji door in the way it suggests that nothing is ever fully concealed; seen in silhouette it also brings to mind the screen in a confessional.

The pay-off, when it comes – in the form of a downbeat coda- lacks the chill of revelation; the use of sexual abuse as metaphor seems an overplayed device and after the near-cartoonish tone of all that’s gone before, the ugliness that finally comes to light strikes an uneasy note – possibly not in the way intended.


Natasha Tripney

Natasha co-founded Exeunt in 2011 and was editor until 2016. She's now lead critic and reviews editor for The Stage, and has written about theatre and the arts for the Guardian, Time Out, the Independent, Lonely Planet and Tortoise.

Our Private Life Show Info

Directed by Lyndsey Turner

Written by Pedro Miguel Rozo

Cast includes Colin Morgan, Ishia Bennison, Clare Cathcart, Eugene O’Hare, Adrian Schiller, Anthony O’Donnell, Joshua Williams


Running Time 1 hr 30 mins (no interval)



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