BETTER TOGETHER, Brockley Jack Studio Theatre - Review

Following on from the Write Now 7's Flight Or Flight event, Brockley Jack Studio Theatre's in-house production of Better Together showcases some of the best new writing with a topicality that's uncanny.

Directed by Kate Bannister and written by David Weir, Better Together is an intimate family drama that also doubles up as a 'State-Of-The-Nation' play. Set in Burntisland, Fife, Better Together follows sisters Shona and Arlene (Rosalind McAndrew, Eleanor Morton), and their parents Margaret and Adam (Kate Russell-Smith, Rikki Chamberlain) where we meet them all on the evening of Arlene's 18th birthday.

Like most siblings, these sisters are very different from each other in terms of temperament and circumstances. Shona, the eldest, has a baby but her boyfriend is serving a long stretch in prison. Consequently, she relies on her parents a lot for support – both emotionally and financially.

Arlene, by comparison, has definite ideas about what she wants to do with her life and what is 'wrong' with the status quo. Being under 18 on the night of the Scottish Referendum, she feels cheated that she never got her chance to vote on "this once in a generation opportunity". It is a source of deep regret for her and feels compelled to study in Sweden where in many ways it is similar to Scotland in terms of its population size and economic growth – and where Scotland's status could be, should it ever be independent.

While Arlene is very much a forward-thinking young woman, her parents have for decades adopted 'traditional' roles. Inheriting her father's shipbuilding business, Margaret has let her husband run it for years. Adam has very different opinions from Arlene about education and Scottish independence – that a new state would in no time bankrupt itself and that it is only the romanticised longing of the 'Bravehearts' that are keeping this 'dream' live.

This of course has bearing to the current BREXIT debate in the news at the moment. Is Britain 'unfairly yoked' to the EU in the same way as Scotland is to England? And should England leave the EU, is it fair that Scotland should do so too?

Leaving the weighty socio-economic questions for the moment, the play takes pains to show the different facets of all the characters so that depending on the circumstances, they're are shown in a different light. Far from just being a person that takes advantage of many men and her parents' goodwill, Shona's in awe of her younger sister's fierce intelligence and where possible tries to spare people's feelings. And Adam – far from thinking that Arlene is a very different person from him ­– thinks of her as his heir apparent, the only person with passion and brains to to take the family business to the 21st century...

Better Together is a satisfying play – as an exploration of families, ambition and the state of Britain today. Much of this boils down to the casting (which is spot on) and direction, where nothing feels false. The fact that the play revolves around a female-centric family and what each woman chooses to be in 2016 provides plenty of grit in the play, as everything from gender roles to national sovereignty is up for renegotiation.

© Michael Davis 2016

Better Together runs at Brockley Jack Studio Theatre until 28th May 2016.


Picture credit: Tim Stubbs-Hughes

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