REVIEW: Happy Family, Barn Theatre, Southwick

Mark Best as Gregory Butler, left, and Dan Dryer as Mark Solstice in Wick Theatre Company's production of Happy Family
Mark Best as Gregory Butler, left, and Dan Dryer as Mark Solstice in Wick Theatre Company's production of Happy Family

Wick Theatre Company has started its 70th season in style with a brilliant production.

Hilarious, terrifying, sinister, thought-provoking, Happy Family by Giles Cooper has it all and we left the Barn Theatre last night absolutely reeling. This is one to provoke discussion, for sure.

Director Tony Brownings has been wanting to revive this forgotten gem for some time, having appeared it in for New Venture Theatre in Brighton more than 30 years ago.

He has brought together a stellar cast of four, Emily Hale as Deborah Solstice, Dan Dryer as her brother Mark, Lyn Snowdon as her sister Susan and Mark Best as Susan’s fiancé Gregory Butler.

They cannot be faulted. Each put in a tremendous performance and they worked together so well.

The dialogue moves very quickly and in places they have to be talking over each other but they do this so well and not a line was dropped last night.

The three siblings are adults but have not developed adult behaviour, continuing their shared private language, childish games and sibling rivalry.

Tony sums up the play: “The characters are bonkers, the play is disturbing and also disturbingly funny, with some cracking one-liners.”

It is quite disturbing, it is fair to say, and there are some uncomfortable moments, covering racism and rape, which are difficult to watch.

But it is also very funny, thanks to the excellent comic timing, Lyn with her bossiness, Dan with his cold, hard stares, Emily acting out the youngest sister’s innocence and Mark as a man who is desperate to fit in. The characterisation was spot on.

The bullying from the brother was actually quite sinister and Dan was able to turn the dark side of ‘Bark’ on very quickly, yet showed his vulnerability, too.

In contrast, Deborah is so innocent, she is totally unaware of the facts of life and still believes in Father Christmas. Emily plays it to perfection, all bouncy and determined.

They deserved a bigger audience than they had for the second night, though I am told ticket sales were better later in the week.

The play is set in Hertfordshire in the 1960s and the Barn Theatre stage was transformed into a cosy beamed cottage, a marvellous achievement from the construction crew.

There were timber beams, a hallway with stairs, bookcase and period fireplace – it all looked great.

Happy Family continues tonight and tomorrow at 7.45pm at the Barn Theatre, part of Southwick Community Centre, in Southwick Street, Southwick. Tickets are £11.

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