Theatre review: The Gathered Leaves
17:44 24 July 2015
Photo by Mark Douet
Marianka Swain finds the piece compassionate but too conventional
The gathered leaves
It’s a family affair, with real-life mother and daughter Jane Asher and Katie Scarfe joining Alexander Hanson and son Tom in Andrew Keatley’s – appropriately enough – family-centric saga.
Three generations of Penningtons have gathered for paterfamilias William’s 75th birthday, including estranged daughter Alice, who had an illegitimate, mixed-race child 17 years ago. Her return, combined with William’s vascular dementia diagnosis, leads to the spilling of secrets and gradual healing of rifts.
Keatley has crafted a defiantly old-fashioned piece: Edwardian drawing room play meets Radio 4 soap. There’s no experimental opacity or poetry, rather a steady stream of helpfully explained revelations. It’s like sitting in on an Ambridge therapy session.
The stuttering structure frustrates, particularly in Antony Eden’s stolid staging: some scenes are jarringly brief, others meander into repetition. Excising unnecessary previewing and reviewing of events would shorten the running time considerably, or provide room for surplus characters to develop stronger purpose. There are also threads left dangling, like a half-formed link between the family’s middle-class hypocrisy and ‘Tory sleaze’ – the play is, nominally, set in 1997.
Where Keatley succeeds is in his evocation of domesticity, unpacking the complications of rituals like games and the giving of gifts. Here, the potency of blood bonds is both empowering and stymying.
Nick Sampson provides a beautifully humane performance as autistic Samuel, and Alexander Hanson is touching as his put-upon, protective brother. Hanson Jr impresses as obnoxious Simon, Amber James is a buoyant presence and Clive Francis deftly locates autocratic William’s vulnerabilities, while Asher cracks the façade of his poised wife.
There’s compassion aplenty, with an emphasis on valuing individuals rather than being in thrall to tradition and dynastic legacy, but this is still an oddly conventional choice for an otherwise adventurous studio venue.