The Harrisons live in a well-to-do (read: white) Philadelphia suburb, their sedate church-led family life shattered by the arrival of Reverend Dr Avery Harrison’s orphaned niece, who comes to live with her father’s former business partner, Caleb ‘Cal’ Johnson.
Libby Watson’s design is a lot of fun – the Harrison’s living room is almost identical to the doll’s house I had in the 80s, and Cal’s bachelor pad with the fold-down bed is perfect for his character (and his fastidiousness with the blanket is a brilliant touch!).
Director Dawn Walton cleverly plays it, with another nod to The Cosby Show, as a sitcom, complete with huge ‘On Air’ signs, a technician and canned applause; it’s a very knowing production, conscious of its influence and influences. Framing as a TV show allows the performances to be big, the gags to be bigger and it lets the audience suspend belief for the evening. It’s neat and brilliantly timed with a cracking cast.
Ayesha Antoine as country niece Beverley makes a convincing transition from Southern bumpkin to worldly-wise self-assured young woman. As Aunt Myra, Jocelyn Jee Essien can crack up an entire audience with her delivery of a word, phrase or just the way she pours coffee. She and Roger Griffiths (Avery) bring excellent physical comedy too, and the scenes with them together are gold.
Daniel Francis is also perfect as commitment phobic Cal, a blend of comedy arrogance, intelligence and well-hidden insecurity. Jacqueline Boatswain delights in the – very different - smaller roles of independent woman Mozelle and Mrs Caldwell.
The characterisation is, in places, one dimensional, and the ends are neatly and hurriedly tied up, but these are down to the script, and are in keeping with the styles Evans follows. The cast and the great reaction throughout from a highly appreciative audience make this a very enjoyable night out. What a shame it took so long - nearly 30 years - to get its European debut.
- Laura Maley