Entering the Playground Theatre feels a lot like walking into an actual hospital, with halogen lighting and two hospital beds – one central, and another right by the audience. Maddie Whiffin’s set design reflects the realism at the heart of this play – and is perhaps the most striking element of it.
The Stone family are fraught. Mr Stone (Andy de la Tour) has suffered a stroke and is refusing to eat. De la Tour is confined to his bed with limited movement and speech, yet he presents Mr Stone with respect, showcasing the man he was – an actor with a love of words, declaring at one point: “I lie here and think about words”. He struggles to remember the most basic of phrases, but recites King Lear with ease. His wife, Mrs Stone (Kathryn Pogson) fusses around him, well-intentioned and pragmatic (if a little dull).
The family drama begins when the two sons arrive: Tony (Josh Taylor), a writer with deep thoughts constantly spinning around his brain, unafraid to share, and Sam (David Partridge), a strident, stiff-upper-lip business man: Chalk and cheese with ten years between them. Their relationship is bitter, full of history and resentment. This should be a story of intrigue, however, the play plods along with a lack of tension.
Nigel Williams’ play, although timeless (it was written in 1985), proves to be dull and uninspiring. The actors are incredibly talented in their own right, but they can only do so much with one-dimensional characters and dialogue littered with meaningless metaphors. Although they touch upon the fact that classic British families rarely divulge their feelings, nothing is revealed, and nothing is solved. Meanwhile, a nurse called Terry (William Reay) pops in every now and again for no particular reason other than to check up on Mr Pittorini (who remains asleep throughout), and to have a random and unprofessional outburst at the end.
With so much new writing with strong and relevant stories, it’s difficult to sit through a play with an uninspiring script and an unfocussed message.