Once again, it’s that time of year where entertainers and theatre companies try out their productions before heading up to Edinburgh. And once again, there seems to be some really top notch stuff heading north of the border. As a prime example of this, let me introduce you to Ghost Light Theatre’s offering Family Values which has been on at The Space.
Liam (Ivan Comisso) is a young man who has definitely gone through something traumatic. Indeed the first thing he does on entering the living room is grab himself a large whiskey, knock it back and collapse on the brown leather sofa. As he sits, the door behind him opens and Trent (Federico Marco) sneaks into the room and attacks Liam. The fight that follows is fast and furious, but short lived. As they fight, the two men talk and it is obvious something major has gone down between them. It is also obvious that they are not strangers to each other as, they often talk in a sort of code – shouting things like ‘Rule 4’ or ‘Rule 10’ at each other. Eventually, it becomes obvious that they are actually brothers and that they have done something today which is very important to their future lives. As they talk, there is a knock at the door, and this alarms the boys as their house on the edge of the Everglades is pretty difficult to find. Anyway, they open the door and let the visitors – May (Virginia Byron) and Frank (Tino Orsini) in out of the rain. Whilst the brothers continue their feud, the new arrivals get settled in and tell them about themselves. But, as they talk, suspicion about May and Frank starts to enter the head of Trent who finds himself wondering if they really are who they say they are. Eventually both boys confront the couple with their fears and once these are in the open, Liam and Trent respond in the only way they can to find out the truth.
Family Values is a taut, well written one act play that manages to create a tense atmosphere – occasionally punctuated with some nicely delivered dark comedic moments – right from the start. Writer Michael Dalberg puts a lot of information into the play but leaves out enough so that the audience is forced to draw their own conclusions about the characters and their actions. This works really well as each character is very interesting in their own right but even more so when seen interacting with the others. This is particularly true of the relationship between Liam and Trent which at times seems more than just very close brothers. At times, they are almost like partners in the way they go at each other but then close ranks against what they perceive as their common enemy – in this case ‘The Family’. Ivan and Federico are perfect together and this could have been a brilliant two hander with just the pair of them on the stage planning their future away from The Family. However, the addition of Frank and May really takes the play to a new and surprising height of intensity. These two are initially a bit too much – almost a pastiche of some of the American tourists you see around London – but very quickly they become bearable and by the end, well I have to be honest and say I had no idea who they were but I did believe in them. My one very minor complaint about the acting was that, on occasion, I felt that lines were coming out too fast and combined with the American accents and the rather echoey acoustics within The Space, meant I missed some of the dialogue. Not enough to stop me understanding the show but just enough to be a bit frustrating,
Having said that, the play is really good. Director/Designer David Gasperetti has kept the set very simple enabling the actors to move comfortably around the stage. There is no separate Fight Director listed so I am assuming David is responsible for the violent and highly realistic fight scenes in which case really well done – I was sat on the front row and actually found myself turning away from the violence which looked horrific from my seat. Something I don’t often mention is the programme for the show, which for Family Values is extremely well designed and includes “The Code” by which The Family live. A lovely touch in my opinion.
Summing up, Family Values is a well written dramatic piece that really grips the audience and draws them, possibly unwillingly, into Liam and Trent’s dark and murky world. I found it to be a deeply engrossing edge of the seat production that held my attention throughout and left me wanting to know more, especially the fate of the boys as they moved on to a new phase in their lives. Family Values is due to move to Edinburgh for the Festival and I really wish it well and look forward to its triumphant return to the fringe theatres of London.
Review by Terry Eastham
Trent and Liam have completed one last job which hopefully has freed them from their mafia ties. Set in the Florida Everglades, these two brothers must learn how to become a real family. Just as their bond seems to strengthen, two strangers arrive at their hard-to-find home. Are these people here by accident, or have they been sent by other members of the family? Or worse: are these people closer to Trent and Liam than they realize? A dark, gritty, physical new drama that explores how perilous escaping the past can be.
The international premiere of Family Values. This is the London preview for a full Edinburgh Festival Fringe run.
Ghost Light. Illuminating Theatre.
The Space, 269 Westferry Rd, London E14 3RS