The Theatreguide.London Review
Park Theatre Summer 2015
So thoroughly formulaic and by-the-numbers that nothing in it can possibly surprise you, Andrew Keatley's family reunion drama is very well done, but cannot escape the feel of a 1940s movie (probably starring Ralph Richardson as Father) or 1950s television play.
There may be some pleasure in watching the stately dance play itself out so predictably, and there are several excellent performances, but there is nothing new or fresh here.
The occasion is father/grandfather's 75th birthday and the clan has been summoned. Granddad is an irascible, gratuitously cruel bigot, and sliding into dementia does not soften him. Grandma is a loyal soldier holding everything together by repressing all her pain.
One adult son is autistic, amiable and generally functional but an emotional and practical burden on all, while another is a nice guy dedicated to solving all problems and making everyone as happy as possible (so, naturally, his father can only see him as a weakling).
A daughter banished years ago for having a child with a black man has come home with her daughter to an uneasy welcome, and the several teenage or adult grandchildren have their own simmering resentments.
You might not guess all the specifics in advance, but you just know that A is going to be nasty to B, C is going to confess that she doesn't love D, E is going to speak openly a dark secret that the others have implicitly agreed to ignore, and so on.
And while playwright Keatley might have elected to leave the family in tatters at the end, he has chosen the small-hints-of-hope route, so you can absolutely predict that Z will confess that after all he does love Y, X will find herself supporting W,V will be appreciated for the first time, and the rest, all right on cue.
Although the cast is large, the play is built largely on a string of short two-character scenes, almost all of which follow exactly the same pattern – after some preliminaries one person says something startling, revealing or provocative that would demand a response from the other, only to have a blackout end the scene before that response comes, so we are left to ponder the implications (which generally turn out to be minimal).
Director Antony Eden does nothing to hide the play's mechanical structure or lack of originality, but he draws some fine performances from his cast. Clive Francis keeps grandfather interesting in part by never reaching for sympathy, while Jane Asher allows glimpses of the cost to grandmother of her tightly controlled calm.
Alexander Hanson carries a lot of the emotional weight of the play as the son just trying to make everything right, while Nick Sampson creates a believable and complex portrait of the autistic brother.
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Review - The Gathered Leaves - Park Theatre 2015