Reviews Edinburgh Published 9 August 2013

Family Tree

Pleasance Courtyard ⋄ 31st July - 26th August 2013

Conversations with my cat.

Stewart Pringle

Bella Loudon has written and directed a conceptually ambitious comedy that’s a million miles from your average ‘me and/or my mates’ play. Julian and Jodie may share some similarities with the kind of angsty, bickering 20-somethings that are all too common in new comedies, but Loudon has placed them in an unreliable, almost absurdist world.

It’s a year since Jodie’s father died, and she’s decided to plant him a tree. Unfortunately her boyfriend’s a limp, whining toss-pot who won’t answer the door to delivery men and spends his afternoon arguing with the cat. To be fair to him, the cat does talk back, making no secret of its access to Jodie’s affections. Julian’s not the only one with an unlikely interlocutor, because Jodie is having a covert affair with her Ideal Man, who she met in a bamboo hut and who wears a shell around his neck on a leather thong. Having this gap-yah Bear Grylls around makes Julian look even less appealing, and as her frustration and grief mount up the relationship teeters on the brink.

There’s plenty to admire in Loudon’s writing, even setting aside its confident rejection of naturalism. The dialogue between Julian and Jodie generally sparkles, and there’s an extended osprey metaphor which is both moving and slyly self-aware. Loudon’s characters convince, and she treads the line between poeticism and self-indulgence with skill and restraint.

There are too many ideas in the mix for any of them to be fully explored. The title image of the memorial oak tree lacks a convincing emotional connection to the thrust of Jody’s crisis, and though the presence of her personified dream beau leads to some great writing, there’s barely time for it to really take off. Julian’s dialogue with the cat is just a bit of a waste of space. Matthew Wernham makes for a pleasingly Wildean moggy, but beyond some weak physical comedy, the cat is just a whimsical distraction. It’s like a particularly tired Garfield strip drawing-pinned to an otherwise intriguing play.

The whole thing is well performed, with Tim Dorsett nailing the gimpish Julian and Kate Craggs seriously impressing as Jodie. There’s a balletic set design by Sayako Makino, walls of muslin which are shifted and shuffled by the cast. It allows for some neat moments of comedy, but it also feels a little surplus to requirements. There are a few elements here, particularly the underused microphones at the sides of the stage, the tumultuous pre-set, the dubstep soundtrack, that feel more like trendy tack-ons than vital parts of a whole. There’s nothing wrong with a bit of formal inventiveness, but here they feel like things Loudon has seen elsewhere and wanted to jam in. The promising Family Tree would be comfortably original enough without them.

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Stewart Pringle

Writer of this and that and critic for here and there. Artistic director of the Old Red Lion Theatre.

Family Tree Show Info


Produced by Matatabi Productions

Written by Bella Loudon

Link http://www.pleasance.co.uk/

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