The Gatekeeper is a story about a dysfunctional family reuniting for a weekend in the Lake District, written by award-winning writer Chloe Moss. Director Tessa Walker makes her debut at the Royal Exchange with this hilariously funny slice of real life.

Stacey’s (Kate Coogan) family are getting together to celebrate her birthday in the holiday home they rented when she was younger. Having established a life and a business for herself in London, it becomes apparent that she rarely sees her family in Liverpool and now has little in common with them.

She manages to ignore the bickering between and aggravation of her proud parents (Ian Redford and Tricia Kelly), until her estranged brother (Nick Moss) arrives with his new girlfriend (Helen Carter), a blast from Stacey’s past. As the alcohol flows freer and freer, the family lower their guards and speak their true feelings, resulting in some uproarious and chaotic drama.

Chloe Moss’s script is written with genuine heart, and her truthful dialogue creates an authentic snapshot of a family who try to keep up appearances but simply can’t ignore their differences. All of the characters are real and their relationships familiar, from the hostile couple who drink to forget each other’s irritating habits, to the heart-warming reunion of friends who reminisce on their unforgettable history.

However, these dynamics, alongside a brother and sister like chalk and cheese, are plenty to ensure a captivated audience, and the revelations towards the end are an unnecessary overload of dark secrets and unspoken resentments.

The capable cast work admirably and tirelessly, engaging the audience for over two hours. A special mention must go to Helen Carter, who makes her debut at the Exchange, playing hairdresser Angela which such warmth and sincerity that it is easy to see how she makes such an impact on those who know her.

Coogan is also attention-grabbing as a seemingly strong young woman, struggling to hold her life together. Director Tessa Walker and Designer Chloe Lamford provide a naturalistic set that creates a powerful atmosphere for this claustrophobic and emotionally-charged retreat.

- Francesca Waite