Friday, 07 August 2015

The Gathered Leaves

Jane Asher plays a long-suffering mother to her real daughter with ease in this family drama

Written by Georgina Brown
Georgina-Brown-colour-176An intriguing thing happens when art mirrors life on the stage and blood relations play blood relations, making let’s pretend feel uncomfortably real. In the recent revival of The Merchant of Venice at Shakespeare’s Globe, when Jonathan Pryce’s bullying Shylock shook his rebellious daughter Jessica, played by his own daughter Phoebe, I felt truly shaken. I’ll never forget a production of Chekhov’s Three Sisters with various Cusacks, another with Redgraves, pulsing with the warmth, frosts and frictions of the intense familiar.

In Andrew Keatley’s new play The Gathered Leaves, Jane Asher plays Olivia, the longsuffering, rather weary mother of Alice, played by her daughter Katie Scarfe. Alice has returned home for the first time since she ran away, having got pregnant, as her rigidly conventional father William puts it, ‘with a black man’. Mother and daughter have an unmistakable resemblance; it’s not the red hair but their intuitive understanding of one another that suggests a special connection. Olivia’s son Giles w(Alexander Hanson), has also come home for William’s 75th birthday celebration, bringing his children, Simon and Sophie. Simon, played by Hanson’s real-life son Tom, is a physical chip off the old block (and of his mother, Samantha Bond), and again, has an authentic ease with his parent.

The play is a curiously old-fashioned piece: a gathering to reunite a broken upper-middleclass family before dementia gets the better of the monstrous patriarch, William (Clive Francis). Cue recriminations, revelations, reparations.

Antony Eden’s shoestring production lacks atmosphere and could do with a good antique to suggest the interior of the manor house, which has been painstakingly recreated as a huge iced cake by Olivia’s eldest son Samuel, who is autistic.

But while the explosive games and sticky conversations reveal a sharp eye and ear, other scenes, not least William trying to make his grandson, Simon, promise to carry on the family name or be written out of his will, feel forced and flat. What elevates the patchy writing and battery of short scenes is the high quality of the performances and an extraordinarily touching relationship between Giles and Samuel. Nick Sampson vividly captures Samuel’s obsessive nature, his inability to pretend, while all around him others are keeping secrets and, if not lying, withholding the truth.

Next month, James Fox and his son Jack will be sharing the stage for Dear Lupin: Letters To A Wayward Son, by Roger Mortimer. I’ll keep you posted.

Until 15 August at the Park Theatre, Clifton Terrace, London N4: 020-7870 6876, www.parktheatre.co.uk


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