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This is My Family

This is My Family – ★★★
by Tim Firth
society/company: Chichester Festival Theatre
performance date: 30 Apr 2019
venue: Minerva Theatre, Chichester

Photo: Johan Persson


Originally staged at Crucible, Sheffield in 2013. This six-hander musical is quite touching. Three generations of a family are well characterised and observed with affectionate accuracy by Tim ‘Calendar Girls’ Firth. The whole point is that this is the everyday drama of ordinary life as lived by real people.

Nicky, 13, (KIrsty MacLaren) introduces the family she sees, as a young teenager would, as wildly disfunctional. Her parents Yvonne (Clare Burt) and Steve (James Nesbitt) met at 16 and, surprisingly stuck together. Their older child Matt (Scott Folan) is having an identity crisis. Steve’s mother May (Sheila Hancock) is succumbing to dementia and Yvonne’s sister Sian (Rachel Lumburg) has yet another exciting new boyfriend.

In places it’s very funny. The number in which Lumburg’s ebullient character compares sex with a new boyfriend to getting into the drivers seat of a brand new car – driving the metaphor home with ever funnier innuendo as she goes along – is a high spot. So, in a driving rain, slapstick sort of way, is the whole issue of trying to erect a tent in Act II when the family goes camping together. Scott Folan’s foray into Gothic-ness and a druidical marriage is hilarious too but it’s also a nice portrayal of youthful vulnerability and angst – with much stomping about and door slamming.

Sheila Hancock gives a stirling performance, singing in a sweet by quivery voice, looking vacant and then, occasionally, delivering unexpected rapier lines. Clare Burt’s Yvonne is a nicely rounded mum, impatient but caring and still exasperatedly fond of her Steve who is hopeless at DIY, given to crazes and making himself look daft. She’s a convincing daughter-in-law too – slightly distant but dutiful and secretly wishing the old bat dead. Nesbitt’s is a strong performance even down to his terrible driving. MacLaren, very petite, is totally plausible as the observing semi-narrator and youngest family member.

The piece consists mostly of repetitive sung dialogue or monologue rather than discrete songs or numbers so apart from MacLaren’s oft repeated ‘This is My Family’ motif, it’s melodically unmemorable. And singing voices are pretty ordinary. It’s the acting which carries the show. Musically the strongest element is the seven piece band over the stage led by MD Caroline Humphris from keyboard – lots of eloquent string work and lyrical woodwind. Tom Firth is no mean composer and I loved the repeated reference to Parry’s tune Repton (Dear Lord and Father of Mankind) to connote May’s church going and love of hymns.

I also liked Richard Kent’s set. On one side is the fussiness of a three story house with stairs to the upper levels. Then it revolves to reveal a wood with huge conifers – a perfect campsite for a family holiday on a wet night,

This is My Family is an enjoyable piece of theatre although it isn’t earth shattering.

Photo: Johan Persson

First published by Sardines:
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Susan Elkin Susan Elkin is an education journalist, author and former secondary teacher of English. She was Education and Training Editor at The Stage from 2005 - 2016
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