Theatre Royal Windsor (venue)
28 May 2018 (released)
30 May 2018
This tightly written and excellently performed four-person play explores the weight of parental expectation on top of the pressures of our education system and the impact these have on the young people who have to navigate this minefield. At the heart of the plot is a moral dilemma, where do you draw the line in trying to get the best for your children?
“Truth isn’t the standard by which things are judged, it’s what you can get away with...”
Jonathan Lewis, who wrote the piece, plays Mark. A self-important, entitled politician embroiled in the run up to the EU referendum. There is an interesting contrast between Mark’s confidence that the EU vote will be pro Europe but his lack of confidence in his son being able to get the results he needs to get into Cambridge.
Imogen Stubbs, Lewis’s real life partner, plays his wife, Charlotte. An ambitious publisher and concerned mother who has just recovered from cancer. Matt Whitchurch as their son Tom, perfectly displays the roughness and sensitivity of an 18-year-old searching for ways to soothe his anxieties through YouTube, gaming and more disturbingly drugs and cutting himself. Frida, his girlfriend, played by Robyn Cara, gives him welcome support and relief.
“Get with the programme Mother, school is a very depressing place to be”
The first act opens in an enviably elegant, minimalist open plan sitting room/kitchen that is worthy of an Elle Deco photoshoot. We are soon aware that this is a privileged family who can afford to send their son to a top end private school, spending over £600,000 on his education.
Whilst this puts them in a rare elite, their family dynamic explores some universal themes; the generational gap in experience and attitudes when it comes to technology and social media; the oscillation between pleasure and pain when adults and their teenage offspring share the same living space. There is plenty of humour in acutely observed reassuringly familiar scenarios – the son who drops his clothes on the floor and puts an empty carton of juice back in the fridge then explodes with frustration when reprimanded for it.
On a more serious note, the story also explores the hidden lies and unbearable pressure within the family. The plot and dialogue of the first act successfully lay dynamite lines which lead to shocking explosions in the second act. Charlotte is a tortured mother, she says she wants the best for her son but doesn’t know if she’s made the right decisions. Using emotional blackmail, she accuses him of ‘punishing’ her when she finds him disappointing or annoying. She rages that while we all want the best for our children, is it right to give them an unfair advantage and what price are we willing to pay for success? Is it worth the expense of morality and integrity?
Tom and Frida push back against the suffocating expectations of his parents and question the meaning of ‘success’. What do people need to do to find happiness? They have been told that everyone has their own song but are painfully aware that not everyone gets to sing it.
The themes of the play are fascinatingly thought provoking and timely as many families will be in the middle of summer exams.