We’ve all looked around at our families before and debated its level of dysfunction in relation to other families we know. What is the ‘right’ amount of conflict? Is it normal to have this many underlying issues? What is ‘normal’? Reared, a play by John Fitzpatrick, confronts the realities of a family working through numerous inter-generational conflicts, and the complexities that lie behind each relationship.
In walks Eileen (Shelley Atkinson), the backbone of the an Anglo-Irish family struggling to navigate through various mounting issues. Her teenage daughter is pregnant and refusing to disclose who the father is, her mother-in-law is showing worrying signs of dementia and her husband appears to be sticking his head in the sand about the realities of both. Desperately trying to iron out some sense within this whirlwind, elements of Eileen’s past are creeping back to haunt her.
I was struck by how well-rounded each character was – something not easily achieved within a 90-minute run time – and the convincing strain that opposing personalities can have on such a small family. Fitzpatrick’s script hammers home the reality that no scenario is as black and white as it may first appear: with each scene our background knowledge of the family’s history develops, adding nuance to each fresh conversation, and a complexity to each conflict. Despite its seriousness content, the dialogue was well-balanced with infectious moments of comedy – laugh-out-loud humour, skillfully drawn out of us by a cast of actors who have a natural affinity with delivering comical retorts with ideal timing.
There is a strong theme of regeneration within ‘Reared’: raising from the ashes of mental health issues, death and rebirth, and the continuation of time. One of the most powerful scenes in ‘Reared’ must go to the scene between Eileen and daughter Caitlin (Danielle Phillips), in which Eileen reveals the harrowing ordeal that occurred when her daughter was a baby and led to later issues. The delicate handling of pivotal life events, including postnatal depression, disease and loss was beautifully and respectfully executed throughout the play. Against a backdrop of subtle, non-invasive sound effects was the poignant idea for the drama to take place in a lived-in, informal kitchen, which is often where families discuss their most pressing issues whilst going about everyday tasks.
Particular praise must go to Paddy Glynn, who played the part of grandma Nora. Her embodiment of a slowly deteriorating mind was simply heart-shattering; this was a well-researched and sensitive performance depicting the harrowing seriousness of a person suffering with the rapid effects of dementia.
‘Reared’ boasts a deeply moving, wisely characterised script, coping with some of the most sensitive issues that a family can face. It was refreshing to see a small cast so varied in age, interweaving various difficult subplots into the overarching story of a family trying to help each other through the worst of times. This is the kind of impactful production that has the potential to stay with you for days after you leave – a hard-hitting triumph.
Reviewed by Laura Evans
Photo: The Other Richard