Review: TIL DEATH DO US PART, Theatre 503

A new play examines parenting choices and the impact they can have on a teenager

By: May. 11, 2022
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Review: TIL DEATH DO US PART, Theatre 503 Review: TIL DEATH DO US PART, Theatre 503 Safaa Benson Effiom's debut play introduces us to a family enjoying each other's company, a bright teenager joshing with his parents in a comfortable John Lewisy home. But we're already aware from the wordless prelude that things will not turn out well, the production's title steering us towards its conclusion. As is the case throughout, the writer could afford to trust her audience a little more, particularly as we're in the hands of fine actors - but that's a thin criticism for a strong play.

We travel furthest with Danielle Kassaraté's Sylvia, the black woman who has risen from an unplanned student pregnancy to a leadership role in a big school and has ambitions for her son to tread a more conventional path to greater success. She's coming from a good place (as the cliché has it) but she's pushing the kid hard.

Richard Holt's Daniel takes the view that parenting should be more relaxed, his white privilege leaking through his requests that his wife ease back on her driving of her (sorry, their) son. Daniel defers (more often than not) to Sylvia's approach which makes it all the harder to challenge it when it might be wise to do so and all too easy to ignore the red lights when they start flashing.

Jude Clinchen, though on stage far less frequently, holds the play together as Andrew. He delivers an understated, but all the more powerful performance as a result, the nuance of the boy's trauma coming through in cryptic asides, humorous deflections and mini-rebellions that mask deeper anxieties. It's essential that we believe that the kid is both exceptional and ordinary, has it all and has nothing, easy-going and churning up inside. We see his intelligence in his cunning willingness to play one parent off against the other, but we also see a kid too scared to confront what that strategy is doing to him.

Plays like this can lose the nuts and bolts of drama in their haste to deliver a message, and I felt that once or twice in its 90 minutes all-through run time. They can also overreach themselves in piling too many issues on to characters that crumble under their weight. Director, Justina Kehinde, is adept in pulling the action back to the central narrative - that of a well-meaning family falling apart - and the fragile balance is maintained.

Theatre 503 (like the Finborough a few miles to the west) has an excellent record in finding new plays that do not compromise on the essentials of engaging drama while examining contemporary issues. This play is a fine addition to that catalogue and will remind everyone who sees it just how close we sail to the wind when we navigate a path through the joys and perils of raising a child.

Til Death Do Us Part is at Theatre 503 until 21 May

Photo Credit: Steve Gregson


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