Camden Fringe 2011
Peter is a family melodrama-cum-spiritual exploration excellently characterised through a realistically terse family dynamic.
Peter, an original creation from playwright George Hull, trails an unravelling family unit bitterly defined by eponymous character Peter, the family’s eldest son. A mostly-absent Peter remains the central influence on the quarrelling family. Peter’s absence reinforces recurring themes of the play: unresolved tensions lurk as ghosts, incrementally sensed despite their invisibility. Elucidating the unaddressed spectres in the family further are the outsiders. School friend to youngest son Daniel (Neill McReynolds), Saul (Sam Hafez), begins almost as an audience member on set, observing the family in visible discomfort as they unabashedly air their grievances with one another.
The script demonstrates an uncanny ability from Hull to capture minute details. Daniel grunts he learnt ‘nothing’ at school when his father inquires; Daniel and Saul act the ubiquitous teenage activities of trying to seduce girls online; Sandra folds clothes in a haberdasher fashion as she copes simultaneously with the possibility of illness and a disinterested, depressed husband. Ghost Nurses, as they are billed, are deployed amongst the family in moments of confrontation and malcontent. The Ghosts embody the prevalent mood of the house: they slink and creep about on stage until the characters bow to their presence. They are used skilfully as a tool for the audience to witness the tension as a tangible force.
Matriarch Sandra, adeptly played by Josie Bloom, is brimming with discontent, opening the play with a quick succession of liquor shots. Sandra’s husband, Simon, an appropriately passive Michael Kenneth, is idle within his sparring family. Simon prefers to play computer games and discuss the war in Iraq than confront his fraught marriage and buckling family infrastructure. McReynolds, as pained adolescent Daniel, enlivens the frustrations of a character struggling to cope with the Christian veneer of his family. McReynolds plays the often petulant character sympathetically. Daniel’s typical teenage attempts to garner attention to illuminate himself in the shadow of elder brother Peter (Stan Colomb) are acted with aplomb.
The relationship between the characters is believable and identifiable. The true nature of Daniel and Saul’s friendship is gleaned from apparent throw-away lines and the physical awkwardness created between the actors. Sandra feigns an oblivious attitude as she witnesses the crumbling virtues of her husband and youngest child. Modern family occurrences such as comparing a child to their seemingly ideal best friend and worrying about keeping up appearances are succinctly mirrored throughout Peter.
It is almost a shame when Peter finally makes his appearance. The missing link of the family is a robed spiritual healer. Similarly, Daniel’s girlfriend Fukayna (Catherine Kitsis) and private tutor Mr. Freeman (David Dawkins) are comparably boorish additions to the cast. All put in stellar performances yet have little to embellish on their characters. There is little time or opportunity to delve beyond the superficial dimensions of the late-appearing additions.
The production begins to falter as the stage becomes over-taxed with rapid scene changes and dialogue delivered before it can be contemplated. Weighty exploration of spirituality, religion, scepticism and charisma are blurred through a quickened pace.
Peter ended chillingly unresolved. Questions remained unanswerable. Peter could have been either a hypocrite or a marvel; Daniel lost the people and life he was stubbornly belligerent towards. He was lost, alone and unusually incapable of expression, an unnerving recreation of his father’s misery.
The production mastered powerful, taut relationships through a realistic depiction made possible with talented writing and acting. The potent mix of humour and wringed emotions was disturbed and complicated, though not to the detriment of a highly identifiable and enjoyable show.