Young, single mother Charlotte (22 years old) works at a supermarket and does all the overtime she possibly can to support her 'family', lives with her daughter Alice, (8 years old - I'll let you do the maths!), her innately lazy lover/ boyfriend Dylan, and sweet but a bit dotty lodger, Caroline. Family Play then, is a story about these four people. How they cope, how they function, but more importantly how they all came to be together in the first place, and how they seemingly can't manage without each other despite their constant bickering and nastiness, sometimes seen from the child's perspective and sometimes from the adults'.


The play starts excellently. Young Alice, played with simple confidence and charm by Poppy Fox-Thompson (who in reality is 10 years old), stands in front of the set {nothing more than a settee centre stage facing directly out to the audience} and introduces herself and the people of the play with a child-like arrogance and we know straight away this is going to be something a little bit unusual - perhaps dark, perhaps humorous - but certainly different.

It IS both dark and humorous in equal measure but it is also a very human story and very much of our Zeitgeist. There is something in this play that almost everyone living will be able to relate to.

However; for me, it seemed more like two plays in one. Despite it being quite a short play (100 minutes long), it is in two acts with an interval after the first hour. Act one seems for me to be Play number 1. The characters all remain constant here as does the set. We are always in Charlotte's flat. (Despite a really very bad attempt at making the sofa into a bed by simply covering it with a duvet). Further, the actors are real and acting real situations and real problems in sequential order. Also, apart from the couple of monologues which, in true Shakespearean fashion are addressed directly to the audience and give the audience more information about the character's back-story or state of mind, it is, to all intents and purposes, quite real.

Act 2 starts with Charlotte dressed as a Barbie Doll and walking like a robot using a high-pitched squeak for a voice; and whilst Dylan and Caroline don't change their behaviour anywhere near as much, they are now seemingly all speaking in American accents and performing in an Off-Broadway Musical. We soon understand that this is only coming from the mind of Alice who wishes to repair all the bad and make the three of them happy again, but it does seem an extremely contrived and false devise. The second act has changed. The directing is no longer real but stylised. The characters now are asked to multi-role and play other people who touch their lives now too. There are 4 chairs - two either side of this omnipresent sofa - and now the actors sit there whilst not performing, and the whole thing has become very Brechtian. They change their clothes and their characters in front of us, and the action, rather than being through-flowing has now become a set of disconnected vignettes which see us change from Charlotte's flat, to her workplace, to Caroline's home to a Doss House where Dylan has now ended up. Moreover, the tragedy escalates in this act like some unseen Machiavellian force compelling them to Hell. It is overworked and unrealistic all of a sudden.

Eventually just as things have spiralled about as far out of control as possible, a magic wand is waved and all three realise that they cannot survive on their own and need each other to co-exist as we see them sitting together back on Charlotte's sofa as they were in the beginning, and all ends happily ever after - or does it? Actually that's not quite the end. There is a little more to come yet, but I won't spoil that for you. Suffice to say that perhaps everything was not really quite what it appeared to be after all.


It is quite an interesting play with an original premise. However for my money, I think it needs some reworking before any more outings are scheduled. The liking of Jane Austen was a device that didn't work and should be taken out. Dylan simply would not even know who Jane Austen was! I also believe that there are too many 'reveals' straight after each other in the first act. Keep us wondering why Caroline can't go back home and that part of her back-story until Act 2. We may have our suspicions, but keep us guessing a little longer the actual scenes in Act 2 which deal with this will then be more shocking and stronger. The lesbian love came as no shock or surprise at all. Maybe because there was too much of an obvious build-up to it. And looking at Act 2, then I would want to try and keep things 'as real' as possible too in order for the end to have a fuller impact. The poster design is an excellent give-away; but only once you have seen the play.

Directed by Julian Smith, this play was a mixture of styles and ideas both from the writing and the directing, and as such was not as cohesive and tight as perhaps it could and should have been. I do feel more could have been done to change the set. (The sofa became the elephant in the room.); and the fight in Act 2 needed looking it; it was very weak and unreal. I also didn't really understand the need for the gender role-reversal for Caroline's parents. However full credit must go to the four actors who brought Matt Fox's script to life. Poppy Fox-Thompson showed a confidence and ability beyond her tender years, and hopefully she will have worn the earmuffs whilst not on stage since the language and themes of this play are absolutely Cert 18, and so despite the play's title, it really is not family viewing. Caroline, the loveable but slightly self-obsessed lodger with a secret was played superbly by Catherine Chalk; Dylan, the lazy but personable, easily-led and misguided boyfriend was played with ease by David Phillips, and Molly Campbell played the protagonist Charlotte, despairing with and loving her life in equal measure with great skill and was immensely watchable. Actually Campbell was definitely the most versatile of the cast, her characterisations in the second act were spot on.

Tonight was the last performance of the current tour, and I felt as sorry for them as they hardly went out 'on a high' with having only 4 in the audience! (Including me) Tragic! I don't know what put people off; perhaps the rain, perhaps it being a Sunday evening. Perhaps the ticket price which at £10 is certainly on the high side for a low-budget Fringe production; or maybe because I haven't seen it advertised at all outside of the King's Arms' own website. And on a further production note; there were not any programmes available either. Fortunately the writer Matt Fox was in attendance, and so I was able to obtain cast names from him. Therefore if they are misspelled, I only copied his handwriting!

Reviewer: Mark Dee

Reviewed: 26th June 2016

North West End Rating: ★★★