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FringeReview UK 2018

Low Down

Directed by Sarah Davey-Hull, this five-hander’s located in a dingily lived-in kitchen lovingly smirched by Sammy Dowson. Jamie Platt’s lighting more straightforwardly fades in scenes where months pass. Dominic Kennedy’s sound punctuates with ominous storms.


For one London-resident Irish family, the past and future are different countries. They’re doing things differently there – simultaneously, and changing their minds. Bold & Saucy’s production of John Fitzpatrick’s ninety-five minute Reared opens at Theatre 503 directed by Sarah Davey-Hull.


In a huddle of house-crowding, Stuart’s mother Nora mines pasts no-one’s heard before, but literally can’t see the squelch she’s trudging from the toilet and complaining to daughter-in-law Eileen about the mess. And it’s Shelley Atkinson’s fine Eileen dealing with the eternal present let alone a reared-view mirror and a front-loading uncertainty. Nora’s deteriorating, fifteen-year-old daughter Caitlin’s got secrets, and so’s Stuart. No matter these turn out harmless – Fitzpatrick’s superb at springing surprises – but Stuart’s fiddling with spin-driers while the world spins around him, ostriching everything. And there’s a baby on the way.


Daniel Crossley begins as a dithering evader, but like two other characters he audibly gains authority when the fuzziness is forcibly stripped off. After, Crossley registers a greater angularity vocally as well as physically – though Fitzpatrick’s alert to comically new twists in his behaviour.


This five-hander’s located in a dingily lived-in kitchen lovingly smirched by Sammy Dowson, blissfully avoiding refits from about 1975, yellow and white with brick-tiled flooring. It’s an exemplary grunge verismo where seasonal props neatly ring sad changes. Jamie Platt’s lighting more straightforwardly fades in scenes where months pass. It triumphs with a weird nimbus at the end. Dominic Kennedy’s sound punctuates with ominous storms, all underscoring a naturalistic production with spooky edges.


Some cupboards hide Stuart’s or Caitlin’s secrets, but it’s not merely the physical detritus of some gambit gone awry. And it’s not just Nora‘s suffered mental distress. Fitzpatrick’s adept at dispelling earlier secrets – we soon learn it’s not Eileen who’s pregnant, though Catlin won’t reveal who the father is. But Fitzpatrick keeps laying up surprizes.


Even the father Rohan Nedd’s Colin has secrets though the family knows these: he’s gay, thus safe. The deeper reason for his drunken one-off with friend and confidante Caitlin is touchingly signalled by the teenagers when alone; who’d understand? Last in her year to lose her virginity because she’s bigger than the dreaded average, the only one to get pregnant, Caitlin’s natural smartness seems set to get buried. Danielle Phillips affectingly develops the hoodie-cowled mentality of Caitlin’s defensiveness through feisty and empathic moments to the very different young woman at the end. Colin’s complicity is even less clear. He’s just helping out. Nedd exudes a winning bafflement and a true loser’s way with gifts.


It’s Eileen’s dilemma though that pivots the decisions on whatever falls out next. Paddy Glynn’s Nora is not only a beautifully detailed portrayal of dementia – seen more frequently these days. Nora’s also a story-teller who robustly snaps to – literally in a horrifyingly funny story about a boy about to be buried in the 1845 Famine – and reflects on the way Caitlin like all grandchildren used to dote on her prowess and keen intelligence and has simply slipped away herself. Glynn’s rapid gear-shifts in one brief scene into three personae rather defy belief but it’s a speed-read of slow decay, latterly in flashes of lightning.


It’s Nora’s agency though, opening seams even Eileen hasn’t admitted that reveal others’ vulnerabilities too; and events completely off any scale you’d predict. In a scene echoing The Weir, Eileen confirms to Caitlin how Nora took the rap for something that nearly killed her. It’s a narrative of enormous power, Atkinson relaying it through a hushed crescendo that reveals more and more of her state, as she struggles to save her child though in a fugue state able to mount the stairs only at a snail pace all the time in stark terror. Atkinson and Glynn’s roles rightly carry the great speeches and their interaction is the play’s superbly troubled heart.


Fitzpatrick’s particularly fine in Nora’s other coup: the mayhem following Caitlin’s sixteenth birthday. It’s when tempers explode at once into a resolution both shocking and clearing the way for the finals scnes. These are perhaps too neat – though an excruciating surprise of Stuart’s goes beautifully awry at the end – but there’s another Conor McPherson-like surprise waiting. If Fitzpatrick at two points echoes that master then in the most important he more than repays it with interest to create one of the most gripping story-telling scenes in recent drama. And with Nora, he’s added to the stock of these tales to lend this medium in Reared a unique pungency.


Reared is above all forgivingly funny, Fitzpatrick’s comedy exquisite in group dynamics but sometimes on a telling image: ‘I thought it was the spinal column of a rat’. Davey-Hull directs at an even pace, though perhaps this could vary a touch more, and lighting used in more creative punctuations. These are mere pointers though, and don’t seriously fluke a deliciously poignant comedy.