Review: My Brother's Keeper?
Image courtesy Tinted Frame Productions
Mr Stone: Andy de la Tour
Mrs Stone: Kathryn Pogson
Sam Stone: David Partridge
Tony Stone: Josh Taylor
Terry: William Reay
Mr Pittorini: Rick James
Following a severe stroke, seventy-four-year-old actor Mr Stone lies dying in a near-empty hospital ward.
His two sons, Tony and Sam, together again after several years must try to reconcile their fractured family over their dying father's hospital bed before it's too late.
They confront each other, their past and the imminent loss of their father.
A funny, moving and witty black comedy by Academy Award Winner and Emmy Nominee Nigel Williams.
Genesis 4:9 Then the Lord said to Cain, "Where is Abel your brother?" He said, "I do not know. Am I my brother's keeper?"
Premiered at Greenwich Theatre back in 1985, Nigel Williams's play may seem an outdated vehicle to revive, but proves to be quite the contrary, offering considerable relevance and still important themes.
It's set in a hospital that has more in common with a warehouse than the technology-strewn modern institutions we're now used to with their push-button controlled beds and littered with bleeping monitors, autonomous pumps and other contraptions that on their own seem to do much of the caring for patients these days.
There's only one machine visible on Maddie Whiffin's (well-devised) rather bare and uninviting hospital ward here, and that device looks dated.
The austere nature of the setting actually still says something about the condition of our treasured NHS - an organisation that, in spite of constant injections of huge amounts of cash, still seems to continually waver on the brink of crisis and possible collapse - perhaps as much a victim of its own success as anything.
But though this play takes place within the confines of a public hospital, it's primary focus is not the ailments of the NHS or, indeed, the ailments of its patients.
In fact it's as much about family conflict as anything else, though it ranges over a wide variety of issues that make it dramatically meaty and, thus, extremely satisfying as a piece of theatre, and amply rewarding as a revival.
In the hospital ward we find two patients - septuagenarian actor Mr Stone who has recently had a stroke and whose family are visiting him - and the comatose Mr Pittorini lying in another bed, who never stirs or speaks during the entire proceedings.
Mr Stone's two sons - Sam and Tony - fetch-up to see their father and find their widely differing personalities, views about society and even the purpose of life, are still at odds, and the temperature of the drama rises as old rivalries and recriminations surface.
At the same time, we find the afflicted Mr Stone unwilling to make any attempt to fight for life, refusing to eat and drifting in and out of sleep as his sons spar on the medical battleground around him.
Josh Taylor's Tony is a writer whose interest in culture aligns with his father's, but he's something of a fanciful dreamer, prone to outbursts and diatribes that don't always seem entirely relevant to the situation at hand.
Essentially, Tony thinks his father simply needs love to encourage his will to live.
Sam, his more practical, entrepreneurial sibling is a much more down-to-earth character who brings along a manual on the means to combat the after-effects of strokes, yet recognises that his father is dying.
Much of the action centres on the conflict between the two sons, with Kathryn Pogson's Mrs Stone caught between her warring offspring and caring for her husband.
Director Craig Gilbert skilfully orchestrates his strong acting team to deliver a totally absorbing drama with highly polished and engrossing performances from the entire cast.
I particularly enjoyed David Partridge's finely-tuned but almost effortlessly confident work as Sam that sets a well-defined contrast with Josh Taylor's commendably played Tony.
Though it's certainly about family discord and sibling rivalry, My Brother's Keeper? finds plenty of other ingredients to latch on to - including the right to die, ideological extremes, personal tragedies and the nature of just what an "ordinary family" is and ought to be - all of which makes the play more than amply relevant for a modern audience.
Compelling stuff, highly recommended.
Links and related content
ActDrop listing for The Playground Theatre
Our show listing for My Brother's Keeper?
Read our reviews' policy