Written and Directed by Bradley Barlow
Britain is at war with itself – the people have revolted and the army have rounded up young men to bring order to the land. A young soldier, Peter, returns from the fight to the secluded family home on the run for a murder he may or may not have committed. Beth, the sister who raised him, is overjoyed with his return but is intent on keeping control of her brother. Battling visions of a dead comrade and the low morals of his sister, Peter struggles with the power Beth holds over him. As Peter begins to grow closer to local girl Emma, just how far will possessive Beth go to keep control? And what really happened to their parents all those years ago?
Inspired by the work of artist Paula Rego, The Family explores a close family whose behaviour to one another is both ambiguous and charged. The play has been work-shopped and contain elements of physical theatre and choreography. It contains language and subject matter that some audience members may find uncomfortable.
The Making Of…
Read about the making of The Family from concept to performance in this dedicated blog here.
Surrey Mirror Review
14 October 2009 – original review here
Redhill-based Bradley Barlow is a man with a fertile imagination. A massive creative leap took him from him seeing Paula Rego’s painting entitled The Family which, he says, was one of his inspirations, to him writing his first play, recently premiered at The Archway’s Studio Theatre.
Very little in The Family is as it seems. The only certainties are that England is at war with itself (indicated in the programme to be a civil uprising against Parliament) and that Peter, a soldier for the rebels, has come home to his sister Beth after a long absence. It is a dark, near-humourless piece that builds tension slowly, inexorably and grips through to the end, rather like a book in which one can barely wait to learn the next revelation.
As Barlow directed the production himself, he knew exactly how he envisaged its staging. He could not have hand-picked a better cast to interpret his characters.
Mandy Humphrey brought Beth frighteningly to life as she applied her ever tightening vice-like hold on her brother. Peter Westmacott (Peter) showed the trauma of a man who has been involved in the horrors of prolonged guerrilla warfare but who, even now, cannot escape his personal demons. His initially raw leg wound and, later, stained bandage were reminders of the bloody action he survived.
Emma, a local girl, seems to offer Peter some respite from his waking as well as sleeping nightmares. Ella Sowton was convincing as this, the play’s only well balanced personality.
Athletic David Robson was the enigmatic, menacing Soldier who arrived at the house unexpectedly and whose presence was definitely unwelcome.
The set, largely housed within the stark curve of the studio’s arched wall added a claustrophobic dimension to the kitchen, cluttered yet basic after years of shortage. Peter and Beth’s clothes reflected this deprivation, while Emma’s summery attire introduced a lightness, reflecting at least some semblance of normality. John Hankin’s vertical bed, where several crucial incidents were played out, was an inspired idea.
Some works by new writers are aired once then sink from view. The Family deserves to be considered by other groups willing to take risks with a challenging but worthwhile play.
Notes from the Programme
The exact nature of how the play came about is now a bit of a blur to me, but I do recall that the initial inspiration for ‘The Family’ came during a night at the theatre in January 2008 when I saw a photographic interpretation of Paula Rego’s painting ‘Girl Lifting Up Her Skirt to a Dog’ – a striking image that reminded me of another of Rego’s paintings: ‘The Family’. The artwork depicts a man sat on the end of a bed being held by one girl as another tries to strip him. A third stands by the window with her hands clasped in either prayer or glee. The title suggests they are related but are the girls trying to help or harm the man?
It was around this time that I read many newspaper articles about soldiers returning from fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq struggling to readjust to ‘normal’ life. As time went on, the Government’s popularity began to fall even further – MPs’ expenses, NHS wait-ing lists, rising unemployment – and this prompted the idea: what would happen if we had enough of the PR spin and there was an uprising? What if the people waged war on our own country? How would those left behind be affected? How would the returning soldiers cope upon their homecoming?
‘The Family’ is my first full-length play and I’m truly grateful to Archway Theatre for giving me the opportunity to produce it for three nights. It’s been an incredibly challenging, thrilling and terrifying experience – but I’ve loved every second. For the past year I’ve been writing a blog on the entire production process so if you’d like to know what it’s like to produce a new play from scratch then visit my website and click ‘blog’. Finally, thank you to the cast and crew – it’s been a joy to work with you all and I’m not sure I could’ve wished for a better bunch of people to have on board. Thank you.