Reviewed – 24th August 2019
“Ola Ince’s direction has facilitated exceptional performances from all the cast”
It’s difficult to believe Appropriate was written over eight years ago; it seems so precisely pointed at the current ‘post-truth’ culture ushered in by climate change deniers, flat-Earthers, and boggling accusations of fake news that you’d think Branden Jacobs-Jenkins had penned it within the past few months. There’s even a remark about a Supreme Court judge which seems to perfectly tie in with the controversy involving Brett Kavanaugh less than a year ago. It must instead be a testament to the inescapable and unflinching truths that Jacobs-Jenkins’ writing brings centre-stage that the play has so much to reflect on in 2019.
Appropriate focuses around the Lafayettes, a staggeringly dysfunctional family forced to convene to deal with their recently-deceased father’s immensely unkempt plantation house. Comprised of the argumentative and devoted Toni (Monica Dolan), pragmatic yet money-driven Bo (Steven Mackintosh), and fraught recovering addict Franz (Edward Hogg), tensions rise to extreme levels over the ghosts of their pasts, as they are forced to reconcile with the notion that – being a plantation owner – their father may not have been as good a man as they’d initially thought. The insecurities and inherited generational ignorance are exacerbated further by Toni’s reclusive son Rhys (Charles Furness), Franz’s notably younger fiancée River (Tafline Steen), and Bo’s mothering wife Rachael (Jaimi Barbakoff) and teenage daughter Cassie (Isabella Pappas) who’s determined to be treated like an adult. Each character feels like they’ve been perfectly crafted to prod and provoke the others in ways that are a joy to watch.
Ola Ince’s direction has facilitated exceptional performances from all the cast, although Dolan is particularly noteworthy as the ferocious epicentre of most of the play’s conflict, constantly finding new texture and nuance to bring to her numerous embittered tirades, imbuing a sense of vulnerability that is slowly revealed. That’s not to say that Jacobs-Jenkins’ script doesn’t give every character a chance to shine; Furness and Pappas, for example, share a sensitive and poignant scene reflecting on the buzz of the cicadas surrounding the house – a cacophony brought to life by Donato Wharton’s claustrophobic sound design. Other design elements are equally exceptional, such as the Lafayettes’ late father’s hoarding realised brilliantly in the overwhelmingly creaky and creepy set from Fly Davis.
Despite that Appropriate is framed primarily as a family drama, there are also undercurrents of horror – characters feel presences, lightbulbs flicker, and objects move of their own volition when no-one’s in the room. It gave the impression that these two genres were going to collide spectacularly in the play’s climax, but it unfortunately fizzles out in an underwhelming montage. It’s a shame to end on such a forgettable note, because Appropriate is otherwise an urgent wake-up call to how the way we remember the past could be cataclysmic for the future.
Reviewed by Ethan Doyle
Photography by Marc Brenner
Donmar Warehouse until 5th October
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