REVIEW: Hatched ‘N’ Dispatched, Park 90 ✭✭✭✭

Hatched 'n' Dispatchd at Park Theatre
Photo: Philip Lyons

Hatched ‘N’ Dispatched
Park 90 Theatre, Finsbury
4 Stars

This new play by Michael Kirk and Gemma Page originated in Kirk’s memories of a Derby childhood on the cusp of the 1960s. We are on the edge of social transitions but we have not yet reached Philip Larkin’s familiar starting point ‘between the end of the Chatterley ban, and the Beatles’ first LP.’ While we what we witness here is in many ways a pure comedy edged with bravura touches of farce, there is an undertow of seriousness, even darkness, that intensifies as the evening progresses, until by the end you think the comedy is in large measure a defence mechanism against the socially stultifying effect of gender stereotyping and inherited prejudice.

Theatre 90 is set out in the round, or rather ‘in the square’. We are in a frumpy, slightly down-at-heel 1950s living room, with very much lived-in furniture and two focal points – the drinks cabinet and a new record player – both away in the corners among the audience. The drama takes place in real time, with one interval. We witness the progress or rather degeneration of a family party, organised to mark two events – a funeral and a christening.

The home belongs to the the wan and subdued Irene (Wendy Morgan) and her daughter Susan (Diana Vickers). It’s Irene’s husband, Arthur, who has suddenly died but he seems to have left life in the same unfussy and unremarkable way that he lived it. Despite the fact that his genial portrait overlooks proceedings, he has to share the limelight with the celebration of a new ‘hatching’. Irene’s formidable sister, Dorothy (Wendi Peters), has decreed that the funeral and wake should be merged with the service and party planned to mark the arrival of her latest grandson, Clifford. So all the adults get together ostensibly to prepare food and drink for a larger gathering of friends and neighbours, but as the alcohol flows so the lid is removed on a simmering cauldron of family resentment and tensions. A lot of what follows is very funny indeed, but there is usually a sting in every joke. It is not innocent fun.

Hatched 'N' Dispatched at Park Theatre
Photo: Philip Lyons

There are plenty of visible influences in this play but it manages to assimilate them all with ease. It owes a lot to the TV soaps based in Midlands and North of England with which we are all familiar. There is no character here about whom we denied revelations of one kind or another. Mostly this is deftly done, though I felt the dramatic pace flagged a tad after the interval when we seemed to be working our way through the back history of the cast a bit mechanically. But there are older dramatic antecedents too. For example, I sensed the distant presence of J.B.Priestley’s When We Are Married in the consequences, both enabling and destabilising, of discovering the possibility that relationships are not so set in stone as they appear to be.

And as the tone darkened I also picked up more than a hint of Distant Voices, Still Lives. There is a lot of suppressed pain and physical violence (which later breaks out into the open), most of it perpetrated by the men on the women. Drink and partying both fuel and obscure the problems so that at the end it is still possible for impossible matriarch Dorothy to state that it’s just a case of ‘every family having its ups and downs.’ But underneath it is essentially a story of ineffectual men run indirectly by highly capable women who are denied real public work and leadership roles. And it is this social dynamic that creates the monstrous gorgon that is Dorothy, around whose manipulations the whole plot and cast revolve.

It is rare to find a production as ‘sharp’ as this at such an early stage. The writing is incisive and snappy, the sets, props, lighting and costumes all in synch as they should be, and the performances with a focus, comic timing and easy pacing that one would not normally expect when a show is just out of preview. But if you look at the experience of this cast in TV and in theatre, then there is perhaps less surprise. There are several distinguished veterans of TV soaps and most of the rest have a raft of London and repertory theatre performances behind them. Just as the play is well made so are the production values. Any reviewer would surely rate this production a hugely entertaining and reliable good night out at the theatre. Certainly the hardened critics at the press night laughed a lot more than normal.

But the heart of this evening lies in the crafted detail of the performances and perhaps the greatest reward of this show is not the raucous humour or the sadness and waste behind most of the lives depicted, but the simple pleasure of seeing a fine ensemble firing together and generating great comic energy without losing the opportunities to develop individual pathos and character detail.

Hatched 'N' Dispatched at Park Theatre
Photo: Philip Lyons

Wendi Peters sweeps all before her in the leading role. There was more than a trace of Hyacinth Bouquet in her absurd domestic pretensions and social climbing, but you also got a sense of how much brighter and more forceful she was than any of her family, and how therefore all their social advancement was down to her, despite the human cost. As her husband Teddy Kevin McGowan has a fairly thankless role, but he takes the moments he is given very well. Likewise, as their son Kenneth, James Wrighton has the difficult task of registering an internal conflict between his desire to appear an alpha-male and the fact that he is still essentially a mother’s boy. He suggested a delicate balance between debonair charm and an anger just below the surface. But for me Matthew Fraser Holland, as the much-put-upon and bullied son-in-law, Ollie, was the pick of the men. He generated lots of fine comic business whenever he was on stage, and conveyed the decency and vulnerability of his character authentically. It was a nice touch in the writing and beautifully acted in performance when the opportunity finally to turn to the tables on the bullying Dorothy fell to him.

One of the pleasures of the evening was the acting between the women in the cast: whether in solidarity or conflict there was a flexibility and naturalness that was most appealing in the many scenes where the women appeared together. Danielle Flett as Corinne, Kenneth’s London-born wife, showed both strength in resisting Peters, brittleness and lack of confidence at her ambiguous position in the family, and a sweetness with the younger women that was endearing. As Dorothy’s daughter, Madeleine, Vicky Binns gets the evening off to a most startling beginning and thereafter make the most of an understated but omnipresent role. Some of the most delicate acting comes from Wendy Morgan, who has to play second fiddle to her sister for much of the evening, but she gives as good as she gets when she needs to, as does her feisty daughter, who at the end of the play seems likely to rebel more definitively against ancestral prejudices than anyone.

This play can be seen as a saucy romp or as something rather more unexpectedly melancholy than that; but either way it is a thoroughly absorbing evening, and you really don’t feel the passage of time at all.

Hatched ‘N’ Dispatched runs until 26th September 2016

Share via
Send this to a friend