The Gravy Bunch
Bread and Roses Theatre
Reviewed – 3rd October 2019
“has potential for being a serious comment on a very serious subject”
From the title, we imagine a warm, family comedy echoing the Bradys of the 70s. Then the synopsis promises darker overtones with an emotional twist. In Sheffield, single mother Yvonne and her two teenage daughters, Zoe and Emily, have been a family unit for 15 years, since their father left. But things start unravelling when Emily, who has never met him, finds out that for years he has been asking to meet her and Yvonne has been hiding his letters. The idea is original, interesting and brings into question the issues surrounding child psychological manipulation and parental alienation, but the lack of depth in the storyline, characters and acting results in an episode of a ‘slice of life’ sitcom where the world goes on amidst everyday trials and tribulations. Writers, Isaac Rowan and Tom Plenderleith, create a stereotypically chaotic family environment with arguments about homework and meals and focusing on Emily’s slightly rebellious nature as she drinks her mum’s vodka or buys her compensatory chocolate; the play skims over the serious aspects of a mother who has denied her daughter contact with her father, her true reasons for doing it and the consequences for everyone.
The roles of the cast are clear – the life-weary mother, provoking older sister, supportive uncle and complicit fraternal friend – but the interpretations are low-key and unengaging, sometimes inaudible. Only Megan Fleet, as the determined Emily, brings some spirit to the performance, despite her most poignant moment being practically brushed over in the narrative. The script misses an opportunity to look behind the relationships and produce valuable dramatic content, even if this means replacing entertainment value for passion or pathos. Ben Reid directs a small-screen concept with well-timed musical scene changes. However, the reduced staging and underplayed dialogue fail to project even in such a small theatre and only at the very end does he use the space theatrically. It is also relevant to note that when the stage at the Bread and Roses Theatre is in a conventional position (as it is in this case), it is half obscured from the back rows. If the direction doesn’t work round the visibility, the action becomes ‘talking heads’.
London is overflowing with fringe productions of all sorts and there is strong competition. At a brief 45 minutes, there is plenty of room here for revision and expansion. No one expects young people to have life experience beyond their years but some research, rewriting and risk taking could put across a pertinent message. ‘The Gravy Bunch’ has potential for being a serious comment on a very serious subject as well as keeping the comic, human approach. Otherwise, it can come across as an end of year showcase for family and friends and a regular audience would probably feel short changed.
Reviewed by Joanna Hetherington
The Gravy Bunch
Bread and Roses Theatre as part of Clapham Fringe
Last ten shows reviewed at this venue: