John Fitzpatrick’s new play Reared has made its debut at Theatre503 – it is a dark comedy that looks at the so-called “sandwich” generation: the adults who are at the point of taking care of their parents whilst still looking after their children. Fitzpatrick is a playwright and screenwriter, who has been nominated at the BAFTAs, British Independent Film Awards, Sundance Film Festival and the BFI London Film Festival.
Caitlin is several months pregnant, her nana Nora is starting to feel the effects of dementia, and the family is struggling with their finances. It is a house full of secrets, as the baby’s paternity is unknown, Eileen (Caitlin’s mum) is battling with past demons, and Stuart (Nora’s son & Caitlin’s dad) seems to be keeping several things close to his chest. The responsibility of caring for Nora seems to have landed on Eileen, which she finds particularly exhausting – and it also means that Caitlin & Stuart seem completely unaware of just how much the dementia is starting to affect her. How long can they keep these plates spinning before one comes crashing down?
As you can probably tell, this play is more focused on character history and development than too much actually happening; this would be fine if there wasn’t quite so much jammed into 95 minutes. There are simply too many secrets – including one that seems to come out of nowhere right at the end, unless I missed something – and the leaps in time in the final couple of scenes give it a hurried conclusion.
There are also moments where it’s unbearably melodramatic (such as Eileen confronting Stuart about a necklace) and, unless it was just down to the audience I was a part of, Nora’s illness tends to be used for comic effect more often than not, which is in poor taste. I’m also not sure the play really knows what it wants to say, making its ending all the more unsatisfying.
Sammy Dowson’s set is incredibly detailed and gives a great illusion of size, with doors and corridors appearing behind the main set. Its style (as well as the varied accents of the occupants) does mislead you as to where the house is supposed to be – granted, it’s not vitally important, but there’s something quite settling about knowing. And you shouldn’t have to find any of this out from the programme really.
Paddy Glynn is compelling as Nora, slipping in and out of lucidity as the dementia takes hold – either remembering things that happened a long time ago as if it was yesterday, or getting uncharacteristically aggressive towards people. As well as moments where she’s sweet & innocent, there are also flashes of a manipulative nature as she tries to assert herself as the matriarch of the family.
My verdict? A tangled web of secrets that can’t all fit under one roof, leading to a hurried conclusion – Paddy Glynn stands out.
Reared runs at Theatre503 until 28 April 2018. Tickets are available online or from the box office.