Premiered in Newcastle in 2003 – and then located in Whitley Bay – Richard Bean’s Smack Family Robinson, revived at Kingston’s Rose Theatre, has now been relocated to the leafy green suburb of Petersham. Directed by Richard Wilson, Smack Family Robinson is the story of an outwardly (semi) respectable family who make their money from drug dealing.
Dad Gavin (Keith Allen) has just retired, handing the family business over to son Sean, while mum Catherine (an appealing Denise Welch) 'runs' a flower shop with a turnover of £3 million. Catherine is kind-hearted but ultimately utterly selfish – shown by the presence of mentally deficient son Robert. It’s never said, but implied, that her drug-taking may have resulted in his situation.
The blackly comic script is littered with memorable lines – “You need some Vitamin C – I’ll mix you a vodka and orange” – but it would benefit from some strong pruning. Cutting Gavin’s big, boring speeches would be a great start, as they simply don’t fit in with the feel of the piece, while copious references to everywhere from Tolworth to the Cambridge Estate are meant to appeal to locals, but don't make much sense – it's hard to imagine that Bean knows the area that well, really.
The ends of both acts feel overlong and laboured, taking away from the sparky relationships that pervade the piece. Despite best attempts by Clare Lamb, Cora’s transformation from good to bad doesn’t really make sense characterisation-wise, but apart from that, Smack Family Robinson is a lot of fun, benefiting from strong direction and a cohesive ensemble that genuinely spark off each other.
Versatile Harry Melling is the best of the bunch as jittery drug dealer Sean, whose fatal combination of self-knowledge and appreciation for the drugs he peddles proves he isn’t worthy of the job gifted to him by his father. Matthew Wilson, too, shines as Robert, a seeming gentle giant whose role in the family business should alert to the fact that he’s capable of doing more than just standing behind the sofa.
While the flabbiness of the writing makes for a somewhat uneven evening, thanks to Ginny Schiller's clever casting, Smack Family Robinson is a fun if dramatically confusing night out.