BWW Review: APPROPRIATE, Donmar Warehouse
What does a Mr Potato Head have in common with a Zimmer frame? Or a rocking horse with antique lamps? An empty crisp packet with a baby's highchair? The answer: all of them and more can be found on Fly Davis's set for Branden Jacobs-Jenkins's Appropriate, which opens in the living room of a grand plantation house. Amidst all this clutter, audiences will discover the hideous past of the modern American family.
The three children of the Lafayette family (no, not that Lafayette) have gathered at their recently deceased father's home to sell both the property and his belongings. Though their father was a hoarder, there is a deeper, darker history tied with the building's foundations that becomes painfully apparent when an album of "disturbing photographs of dead black people" is found casually placed on a shelf.
The past, present and future of the American family is at risk in Appropriate. Franz (Edward Hogg), the youngest of the three children, has come home to apologise to his siblings. Accused of statutory rape and heavy drug use, Franz brought shame on the clan, but arrives with his fiancé River (Tafline Steen) in search of forgiveness. Franz's sister, Toni (Monica Dolan), is recently divorced and suffering the effects of her son, Rhys (Charles Furness), being involved with drugs.
Meanwhile, Bo (Steven Mackintosh) has come with his wife Rachael (Jaimi Barbakoff), daughter Cassidy (Isabella Pappas) and son Ainsley (Orlando Roddy) to help oversee the sale of the property. Rachel and Bo have brought their kids to the Arkansas house as part of a "Southern history road trip", though the lessons to be learned are far more terrible than anyone could predict.
Despite such disturbing themes, director Ola Ince manages to draw an impressive amount of comedy from the piece. All the cast capture the audience's attention, though Dolan especially offers a shakingly austere portrayal of a woman whose grief has consumed her. Pappas also does well with a role that caricatures the modern teenager. Hogg's frenzied behaviour definitely taps into the listless energy of someone in rehab, though risks at points being hyperbolic.
The eerie music of the swarms of cicadas that surround the house wavers between a humming serenity and a surge of vibrating anxiety, creating a constant backdrop of ominous foreboding.
Between clutter there exists a nebulous space, and amidst the rubbish and antiques, darkness can sit in the jigsaw puzzle of a person's life. Light touches of the supernatural - the occasional flickering light or a window shutting by itself - and the gruesome object of the photograph album anchor the play in America's haunted history. However, in just using these features sporadically, Appropriate maintains a tense tone but with little payoff.
In fact, Appropriate attempts to clear the mess too soon. Once the furniture has been rearranged and realigned after the first act, there are no places for secrets to hide, whilst the detached end of the play proves that time is the greatest leveller of all - even of wealth and property, the foundations of modern America. Like the house, the future of these characters is left to rot and ruin, and there's little that can stop the four walls of their lives falling in around them.
Photograph credit: Marc Brenner