Family: you can’t live with them, you can’t live without them. When Ryan is spending time on holiday visiting his partner and their dysfunctional family, he gets a call from his sister to say that his mother is ill and then she subsequently dies. When confronting his homophobic estranged father, Graham, for the first time in 20 years to arrange the funeral, Graham has a stroke. Then, Graham must rely on the one person he has cut out of his life out of prejudice to look after him and nurse him back to health.
Unfortunately, writer/director/actor Raymond-Kym Suttle’s new play about reconciliation is as cliché and tiresome as the opening sentence to this review, despite there being flits of wit and perception. Billed as a dark comedy, there was certainly scope in the potential of a wry look at homophobia, family, and care through humour. However, Suttle seems more content with shoe-horning in as many emotive issues and cataclysms as possible that there’s seldom any room for narrative depth or character development, let alone laughs.
Straight from curtain up there’s drama, drama, drama. Almost every actor gets up and shouts out a deeply troubled back story in a loud and lazy string of expositions that makes Eastenders look reserved and subtle. Starting with a row about drug-addiction, the play swiftly flows on to religious homophobia, the ethics of polyamory, domestic violence, and child abandonment and abuse.
If these shallow characters and issues aren’t enough, when topics such as politics and religion are discussed/screamed, the arguments Suttle puts forward are so binary and simplistic that they’re a bore. We’ve heard the point-counterpoint about those passages in the Bible far too many times for them to be engaging anymore, and a schoolboy dissection on the ethics of warfare isn’t exactly intellectual fodder. There isn’t anything surprising or new about these opinions, making them incredibly ham-handed and crass. It’s less a moral maze, and more of a moral cryptic crossword: needlessly frustrating and unrewarding.
However, asides from this incessant need to stoke some sense of moral worth through melodrama, when the plot does calm down, Suttle manages to pick out some very touching aspects of the awkward situation of Ryan and his father, the demands of being a carer, and the meaning of compassion and forgiveness. It wouldn’t be surprisingly that, given how acuminous a few of these scenes are, that Suttle has drawn from his own experiences. It’s a real shame that these moments are never given time to take hold before another truckload of tribulation comes stream-rolling in.
There is also a peek every so often to what could have been some really great characters if they weren’t constantly being concerned with being so tragic. Ryan’s twisted sense of humour is quite charming when allowed to come through, and Astrid, Graham’s extra-marital lover, is incredibly enigmatic and intriguing when not being attacked with piety.
There is also a talented cast behind the show. Getting their teeth into their roles, they really revel in the times the writing turns its attention to personality rather than catastrophe. Brodie Bass, as Ryan’s partner Owen, shares a fun and adorable rapport on stage with Suttle who plays Ryan, being most charming and believable when his character is forgiving, placid, and understanding. Michelle Fine as Astrid is also wonderfully ethereal and regal as the charismatic and carefree mistress.
But it’s Julian Bird, as Graham, that really draws your attention. Despite an introduction that’s unconvincing due to the script, Bird really excels at Graham’s seething resentment and stark vulnerability. Combining this with a ravish cantankerousness, the slow and forceful reconciliation between him and Ryan becomes more engaging to watch than it is to consider through the text.
Unfortunately, what gloss the cast do bring to the show doesn’t quite counter the hackneyed writing. More still, it’s stripped away by the unsure and often stumbling delivery of lines by others in the cast, and some unforgivably amateur blunders with sound on opening night.
It’s a shame that the clear latency for Suttle to create some great characters and bring deft insight is not realised due to this need for a constant assault on “hard-hitting” issues. Because of this, Treatment is a play that requires intensive care.
Treatment plays at the Drayton Arms, London, SW5 0LJ, until 10 August 2013. Tickets are £10 (concessions available). To book, visit http://www.thedraytonarmssw5.co.uk.