THE GATHERED LEAVES, Park Theatre, N4

GUEST REVIEWER LUKE JONES FINDS AN EMPTY FAMILY DRAMA WITH GOOD GAGS TO KEEP IT AFLOAT

After 17 years away, the grown-up daughter returns with the illegitimate child which got her thrown out. One of her brothers is having marital problems, whilst also being a doctor. Her other brother is autistic. Her mother is a basic, frustrated housewife and her father doesn’t understand anything but definitely has affairs. The grandchildren also don’t get on.

If you’re starting to think that all sounds a little Sunday mid-morning on Radio 4, it’s because it is. Playwright Andrew Keatley has delivered The Archers and every other soap you could imagine. It is amusing but absolutely nothing more. The acting is entirely conversational and anything overly dramatic falls flat. All of this over Easter weekend with the ’97 election looming – for no reason whatsoever.

It is baggy, for 2 hours, and needed hefty trimming. The only relief was a decent joke every 4-5 minutes.

The play calls open season on all issues. Tracey Letts’ Orange: Osage County got stuck in with vividly entertaining relationships and acute deconstruction of each misfits’ dilemma. This play kicks the problems around with simplistic language and zero poetry, pumped with gags which almost never suit the character they come from. Wherever this dies, another random problem is added into the mix. Textbook family woes for Playmobil characters.

The best plays put issues under the knife, dig a little depth. There is no dramatic use to ambling around, airing them.

Despite much of the cast being related (Jane Asher/Katie Scarfe, Alexander Hanson/Tom Hanson), none gel. Huffy delivery of over-explained lines gives them little to work with. Basic emotions are handed to them and nothing is left to drama, atmosphere or the audience. Every little thing has to be over-explained in the dialogue for fear of someone 20 miles away missing it.

The only decent performances are from Clive Francis as the grandfather – a painfully conflicted character he makes sense of – and Nick Sampson as the autistic uncle. Although delicately and almost movingly played, he is the butt of every joke. A room of 200 laughing at someone pretending to be autistic is frankly not my cup of tea – no matter how much it tries to make moral conversation of it.

This is a basic play, with no direction from Antony Eden, but had some laughs.

– LUKE JONES

2 Mice 2 meece rating

Until 15th August at Park Theatre: Box Office: 020 7870 6876

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