Edinburgh Fringe 2015
“George and Jude seem like your typical elderly couple, gardening and bickering through their winter years. But as they nervously wait for their daughter and granddaughter to arrive, they’re forced to confront the violence and tragedy of their youth. Reunion is a bittersweet exploration into the power of memory, the lies that bind, and how far we’ll go to justify our past. ‘Yer see this soil, this… is wonderful stuff. Put things in the dirt and… it looks after ’em. Keeps ’em warm. Safe. Because… things end. Things die. You. Nan. Me. I’ll die. We all…’”
Reunion is a dark, uncomfortable two-hander set in the living room of an ageing couple. History haunts them and is revealed through scenes that reply the memories – a shattering tale emerges, delivered by two focused, poised and committed young actors.Neil Smith’s play is deceptively calm and then builds and explodes – visceral writing. What does that mean? It affected me physically – I was utterly still in parts, even lulled into a false sense of calm, before I moved uncomfortably in my seat, tuned into things I didn’t want to tune into that were happening before me. Real and surreal meet in a living room as time and memory interweave and the present becomes a function of a dark history. There’s a story here, not an easy one, but it is told with a stark intention towards witness and realism, reflected in both script and acting.
Reunion feels too weighed down towards the end. Some dramaturgy is needed towards and end – in the last ten minutes. Also, when younger actors play older characters, there has to be a good artistic reason and that artistic reason isn’t entirely clear to me. That said, the performances are so strong and well manifested, I was happy to forgive the feeling of disconnect between portrayed and actual age.
This is tough, uncompromising drama. Director, Ross Drury has extracted every piece of edgy tension, suppressed and then released emotion, fear and regret from this script. The clash of attempts to cope in old age with the weight of dark history gives Reunion a power that creates uncomfortable theatre. Uncomfortable because this couple could be anyone’s parents.
There’s terrific use of silence. Familiarity breeds contempt – so goes the saying, and that truth is played out between husband and wife, pressed down by the climb of years and the descent into unhealable regret. Shattered by the knowledge of what has happened (and I won’t reveal any of that in this review) and can’t be changed, Reunion offers us puzzle pieces and, as the hour progresses, the greater picture emerges, the events that lead to this present, this now, a “now” shattered by events in the past. Like all good dark drama, the picture that emerges is a broken mirror with utter clarity in each shard.
Reunion is a finely acted, well tuned drama, directed with intelligence and economy. I highly recommend it for its disturbing power, its skill with silence, its raw emotion. There’s still scope to match the brilliant dialogue with even more authentic physicality, especially if the actors playing the parts of the elderly are to be young in real life. But there’s such an impressive intensity here, it’s well worth seeing. An unmissable play on the Fringe.