BWW Reviews: THIS IS MY FAMILY, Crucible Studio, Sheffield, June 24 2013
This is My Family, currently playing at the Crucible Studio in Sheffield, is a brand new musical written by Tim Firth (Calendar Girls, Our House) and directed here by Daniel Evans. It's the story of one family and, for the bulk of the storyline, their attempts to go on holiday. It's a simple conceit to put a nuclear family (mum, dad and two teenage kids, with a grandmother and an aunt thrown in for good measure) and their domestic travails at the heart of a musical and perhaps for some, the familiarity of the scenarios and relationships might be a touch lacking in drama, but overall, bringing out the emotional drama of the family unit works well.
Evelyn Hoskins is the star of the show as teenager Nicky, and although she is almost twice the age of her character, manages to successfully pull of the physicality and character of a thirteen-year old. Hoskins's Nicky acts as narrator and the key point of audience identification, but the other five members of the cast (Bill Champion as dad Steve; Clare Burt as mum Yvonne; Sian Phillips as grandma May; Terence Keeley as older brother Matt and Rachel Lumberg as aunt Sian) have almost as much to do. It's a show that demands a lot from all of its performers, with the four central members of the family rarely off stage throughout.
The storyline is simple but gives enough scope for the family to express their ambitions and emotions - with some caveats - there is a thread about a possible move to Abu Dhabi, for instance, that is never really developed and by the end is pretty much forgotten. The characters themselves, whilst familiar to most of the audience, are somewhat underdeveloped - occasionally to the point of caricature, although the performers manage to give each a bit of spark. The songs are funny and mostly touching, but the songs are perhaps the weakest part of this production overall - there are only a small number of recurring musical motifs and the score could have been perhaps more ambitious in its scope. Whilst the songs are perfectly hummable, the musical lacks any 'killer tunes' - numbers that bring the house down - perhaps this is fitting for a production that celebrates the mundane but it means that, as a musical, it is going to be hard for it to become truly memorable. Likewise, there is little in the way of choreography - fine for a cast of six who are clearly actors more than musical theatre performers - but again maybe something that would hinder the show's life outside of intimate surroundings such as the Studio. It's also very clearly set in contemporary Britain which may prove problematic for its long-term prospects.
The set design is creative and effective, using unfinished plywood to remind us of Steve's botched DIY jobs and colour-coded props and trinkets for each member of the family as well as some clever little touches when scenes are changed. Ladders at different levels help create a sense of the rooms in the house and allow the performers to interact in different ways with each other and the audience.
The production, then, is vibrant and funny with a lot of warmth throughout and well staged and performed - but the source material needs a few touches of magic to elevate it from being good to being something special.