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Review: Of Kith & Kin (Bush Theatre)

Chris Thompson's play analyses the world of gay parenting

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
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Chris Thompson's timely, riveting tragicomedy is possibly the best British gay-themed play since My Night With Reg: it feels all the more vital because its depiction of the life and family options available to the gay community could really only have been written now, or at least very recently..

Its central protagonists, urban gay married couple Oliver and Dan, are using adorable, feisty best mate Priya (Chetna Pandya, stunningly good) as surrogate mother to their eagerly awaited baby. We first encounter them at their baby shower, which is promptly interrupted by Dan's tactless, cranky mum. A nasty family battle ensues which also brings to light the faultlines in the guys' relationship. Priya seems like the only truly likeable character in the bunch, at least at first.

Superbly played by James Lance and Joshua Silver, Dan and Oliver are all too recognisable: a bit smug, a bit precious, but also funny and good company. What is so remarkable about what follows in Robert Hastie's beautifully orchestrated production is that Thompson affords his flawed, relatable characters the luxury of following entirely their own trajectory: they are wonderfully ordinary people caught up in extraordinary circumstances. Their sexual orientation doesn't, or shouldn't, matter, it's their humanity and suitability as parents that is under scrutiny.

If there are moments that strain credulity (would Dan's old-fashioned parent really come out with "when did children become so fragile?"), overall the script is taut, tense, modern and, in a cracking second half, surprisingly moving. Most of what the play has to say about parenting, the pressures of a party lifestyle on a monogamous gay union, the effects of an age gap in a relationship (Dan is 14 years older than Oliver), and modern family units, rings true and makes for powerful viewing. That is never more so than in the scene where Dan breaks down for Oliver the difference between a 40-something gay man's attitude to matrimony and monogamy and a 30-something's who has grown up in a radically different world. While it doesn't necessarily speak to, and for, all gay men, it is still uncomfortably accurate and quietly furious.

If I didn't entirely buy some of the histrionics in a courtroom scene (Donna Berlin's laconic judge is beautifully done) or Olly's open hostility towards his mother-in-law (Joanna Bacon, excellent in a nastily amusing role that isn't that well fleshed-out on paper) I was still on the edge of my seat.

The play's gut-wrenching, unexpected conclusion feels a million miles, and a wealth of human experience, away from its jokey opening, but the journey to get there is a fascinating, sometimes painful one. It's also frequently laugh-out-loud funny, extremely thought-provoking, and Pandya is worth the ticket price by herself, despite having literally no lines for one scene. Thompson has given us a hugely satisfying new play.

Of Kith and Kin runs at the Bush Theatre until 25 November.

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