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Review Round-up: School report for Dunster's Children

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Matthew Dunster's {Children's Children::L01819075432}, received its world premiere at the Almeida Theatre last week (24 May 2012, previews from 17 May).

The play tells the story of two best friends, Michael and Gordon. Twenty years after attending acting school together, Michael is successful, 'Mr Saturday Night TV', but Gordon’s career is failing along with his savings account. Meanwhile, Gordon’s daughter Effie remains aloof to the family problems, obsessed with film-making boyfriend, Castro, and her ecologically sound clothing label.

Jeremy Herrin directs a cast comprising Darrell D'Silva (Michael), Trevor Fox (Gordon), Emily Berrington (Effie), John MacMillan (Castro), Sally Rogers (Sally) and Beth Cordingly (Louisa).

{Children's Children::L01819075432} is playing through to 30 June 2012.

Michael Coveney

Matthew Dunster’s spiky, squawky new play, Children’s Children, tracks a friendship of two Geordie drama students, Michael and Gordon, down the years as one becomes an obnoxious celebrity ('Mr Saturday Night' on television) and the other an embittered loser with a wife whose career suddenly takes off in a television soap… So far so neat, formal and complicated, but Jeremy Herrin’s production allows Dunster’s baggy play to breathe and dance along its long, direct address speeches (each character has one) and the meat of its meaning, which is contained in scabrous outbursts, notably from Darrell D'Silva’s grotesque and oily TV 'personality'… 'We have a lifestyle that we like and we don’t want to pay more for it', says Castro, mid-harangue, fingering the decadence of Western society, to which there is simply no reply. You feel Dunster is trying to say everything he thinks about everything, and you’ve got to salute that sort of crazy theatrical ambition. The end result is highly entertaining and far from perfect: just like the world he’s describing.”

Michael Billington

“I find myself wondering what Matthew Dunster's new play is really about. Is it a satire on the perils of TV fame, a study of the fragility of friendship, or a didactic warning about the danger of bequeathing "a fucked-up planet" (in one character's words) to future generations? It could be any of those and much else besides – but, while moderately engaging, it suffers from its scattergun approach… I suspect the play is really an indictment of both generations: the self-seeking individualism of Thatcher's children and their ineffectual offspring, who talk a good ethical game while lacking the capacity for action. While I applaud the intention, Dunster handles it clumsily… Still, even if the play lurches from one theme to another, Jeremy Herrin's production keeps us watching and the actors are all good. Darrell d'Silva is very amusing as the bumptious TV star, Trevor Fox as his parasitic old friend has the faint air of a Tyneside Iago, and Sally Rogers as the latter's wife offers a sharp portrayal of the smiler with knife under cloak.”

Dominic Maxwell
The Times

“Now really, as a pitiless critic, I should have a few stern words for Matthew Dunster. Because, for all the wit and empathy in his new play, for all the sharpness of Jeremy Herrin’s production, he tackles too much here… the strands don’t quite unite into one big hug of narrative. But sod it, if a certain messiness in construction is what enables Dunster to give us so much of the messiness of human life, then so be it. Children’s Children has electrifying moments, such as when Gordon debases himself in front of his oldest friend, or when Michael unleashes years of frustration to Effie. It has clunky moments, such as when Castro comes on to Louisa…But this lengthy play also has wit, intelligence and a rare sense of scope. It’s excitingly alive. Just when you think you know where it’s going, it goes somewhere else: kills someone off, jumps two years ahead, lets a quiet character shout, dares to be a bit of a yarn. It’s hard to imagine it getting a better production. You believe in these tangled relationships even at the show’s more satirical extremes. (You believe in the settings, too — two tasteful interiors and a neat poolside area — in Robert Innes Hopkins’ set)… Dunster knows how to satirise his characters’ selfishness but allow them rogue impulses and a very human capacity for self-deception that’s matched by their need for self-respect. Yes, it should be, could be, tighter. But I’d happily have hung around for acts four, five and six of this fascinating show.”

Kate Bassett

"The fast movers in Children's Children are of the sexually unsettling variety. In Matthew Dunster's dark new domestic drama, Michael (Darrell D'Silva) and Gordon (Trevor Fox) are best mates, both of earthy northern stock, who've known each other since drama school…This is, in some respects, an old-fashioned play along Shavian lines. There's a nod to Major Barbara, as Gordon's daughter Effie (Emily Berrington) starts out as a censorious teen, upbraiding her parents' compromising work in commercials. She worships her boyfriend Castro (John MacMillan), a documentary-maker on a mission to expose polluting oil companies. Effie then sets up a fashion label that uses a developing world sweatshop. As for Castro, he tries to seduce Louisa while dissing multinationals. The long speeches about moral choices aren't convincingly integrated and the multiplying nasty twists towards the end feel forced. Nonetheless, Fox's quiet schadenfreude is chilling, the eruptions of fury are savage, and D'Silva is outstanding, seeming to crumple and age before your eyes."

Charles Spencer

"Matthew Dunster’s Children’s Children seems merely unpleasant. There isn’t a single character you warm to in this story of a successful TV presenter and his failed actor friend to whom he implausibly lends a cool £250,000. There is also a disconcerting misanthropy in Dunster’s writing, coupled with long, tedious lectures about the damage humans are inflicting on the environment. It is strange how people who want to save the world so often seem to despise the people that inhabit it. There are lively performances, especially from Darrell D’Silva as the TV star overtaken by disgrace, Trevor Fox as his sponging friend and newcomer Emily Berrington as a self-obsessed fashion model. Her scenes of gratuitous nudity seem like a desperate attempt to give this dull, cynical and often downright incompetent play at least a flicker of prurient interest."

- Julianna Fazio  


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