Tolstoy wrote that ‘Happy families are all alike. Every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way’. He might also have added that the disconnect between the public face a family presents, and the private griefs hidden within it are the stuff of drama.
That is certainly the case with Hatched ‘n’ Despatched, the new play by Gemma Page & Michael Kirk which has just opened at The Park Theatre.
Set in the Midlands in 1959 with the old deferential post-war world about to give way to the permissiveness of ‘The Swinging Sixties’ the story concerns two sisters, Irene and Dorothy, and their respective families.
One of the families is celebrating the birth of its latest member, the other mourning the death of its head. The church has been long- booked for the christening, so it seems obvious to utilise it for the funeral as well, and our story takes place at the home of the widowed Irene Walker (Wendy Morgan) as preparations take place for the joint wake and christening party.
Irene’s sister, the overbearing social-climbing proud grandmother Dorothy Needham (Wendi Peters) has invited all the ‘right’ people to the wake which she is organizing down to the last detail. However, in between ordering everyone about we find out that all is not the perfect family that Dorothy would have us believe.
Dorothy evidently believes her daughter, Madeline (Vicky Binns) to have married beneath her and the fact that Madeline’s husband, the likeable but somewhat accident prone Oliver Kershaw (Matthew Fraser Holland), hasn’t been able to provide her with a grandchild only adds to the antipathy between mother and son-in-law.
Dorothy’s rather spoiled son, lawnmower salesman Kenneth (James Wrighton), though outwardly the perfect family man has a rather different private life from that which he presents, and although his southern wife Corinne has provided him with three children it has come at a cost.
Add to that the possibility that Irene’s only daughter, Susan, (Diana Vickers) might or might not be pregnant by any one of three men, and an evening like no other awaits.
We are told in the programme that the play is based on recollections of one of the writers, Michael Kirk, who also directs. If that’s the case, he must have had one hell of a family. There are more skeletons in closets that you’d find on even the most well-equipped ghost train, but the fact that they land so satisfyingly out into the open is testament to the writing which though seeming superficial, if riotously funny, in the first half darkens almost unbelievably following the interval.
The players are all excellent, thought the pace, especially in the first half, could do with stepping up. This was only the second night, so I’m sure that will happen.
The play is done in the round, which works, especially during some of the more intense parts of the second half. It struck me at one point how everyone seemed to be holding their breath waiting for what was about to happen next.
It isn’t often that a new play appears so well crafted, but this is a well crafted play in the J B Priestley mould. Go see it.