BWW Reviews: KEEPSAKE, The Old Red Lion Theatre, January 8 2014
Brought together by their father's suicide, sisters Abra and Samana are reunited in their parents' house ahead of the funeral. Brooklyn-based actor and playwright Gregory Beam's new play KEEPSAKE! enjoying its world premiere at Islington Old Red Lion Theatre, explores what happens when family secrets buried deep are forced to the surface - with explosive results.
Beam's witty script is delivered with expert comic timing by a young cast, offering a sideways look at small-town America. It shines a light on the cultural melting point that is America - as this first and second-generation family adapt to the American dream.
Dilek Rose and Lou Broadbent are excellent as the two estranged sisters. They have great chemistry, accurately showing the regression that happens when adults find themselves in their childhood home.
Sean Martin's direction cleverly integrates flashback, showing their father's painful descent into mental illness - with time-travelling props cleverly shared between the past and the present. Doctor Who would be proud. Katie Bellman's well observed set fits well into the intimate space, making the audience feel like extra guests around the kitchen table. Music also plays a very important part and Angus MacRae's sound design adds extra layers to this fringe production.
As the family secrets are revealed and the sisters begin to settle old scores the play's weaknesses are also brought to the surface. Beam's script throws everything at the characters, and sometimes they struggle under the weight of the text.
What starts off as a family comedy suddenly has to deal with really serious issues and the change in gears can be more than a little uncomfortable, leaving the audience unsure whether to laugh or cry. There's a very dark undertone to this play that requires too much of a leap.
Supporting characters are also given very little chance to develop, James Corscadden just doesn't have time to establish his character - and ends up becoming a little two dimensional in his portrayal as the army veteran half-brother falling on hard times.
Ultimately, KEEPSAKE is a brave attempt to tackle Culture Clashes and mental illness. And whilst the execution is less than perfect, there is still much to enjoy.