Alexi Kaye Campbell’s new play is in many ways an old-fashioned domestic comedy. An aberrant mother, a radical art historian, plays host to her two grown-up sons and their partners, and an old friend, round the kitchen table in a cottage in the country.
Campbell made waves last year with his debut play The Pride in which three characters, and gay lives, were defined in different eras separated by fifty years, a sort of re-design for living. His second outing is ambitious but unevenly executed in Josie Rourke’s rambling, indulgent production.
Kristin Mille (Paola Dionisotti), who has a real big thing about Giotto, has made no mention of her sons in her memoirs. This omission grows to incubate a suggestion that she failed in her maternal duties while manning the barricades in Paris and marching in Grosvenor Square in 1968.
Her second son Simon (John Light), a struggling novelist, recounts how he was abandoned on a railway station in Genoa as a boy and picked up by a man who took him to his house. What happened isn’t made clear, but Simon was scarred for life by this mishap.
Campbell is registering a deeply felt point about bad parenting by the radical generation. He then backs off by mounting a sterling defence of the old bat in the rising anger of her friend Hugh (Philip Voss); she may have wanted to exchange WRP politics for a house in Islington, but there was something in her eyes that was genuine.
And the marriage had made her job as a mother very difficult. So the play evens out on all sides, and there’s even an unlikely but all too predictable post-feminist reconciliation between Kristin and her born-again Christian soon-to-be daughter-in-law Trudi (Sarah Goldberg).
The catalyst for this is the gift of a Liberian mask which hovers in the background on designer Peter McKintosh’s cluttered kitchen sideboard. First son Peter (Tom Beard) is a banker who’s found God, and Simon’s partner Claire (Nina Sosanya) is an actress who once played Nora in The Doll’s House but now features in a popular television soap; I think we’re meant to think that’s a come down, but I’m not sure.