Under the cold light of a hospital room, a family is forced to reconcile their differences. Within the cavernous space of the Playground Theatre, previously a bus depot, the air feels particularly unmoved by the plights of the characters. In the grand scheme of the world of the play, their feelings towards each other are really quite irrelevant; lives will still end, the NHS will still be brutally underfunded and the world will continue regardless. However, for just a moment, My Brother’s Keeper? which is written by Nigel Williams and directed by Craig Gilbert, puts those exact plights of how people can understand both themselves and the world around them at the forefront.
In the context of the play, the offshoot of the hospital in which the Stone family find themselves congregated is a liminal space. They are all passing through it, normal lives broken off but also waiting to resume. For now, the outside world only seems to be important in terms of how it affects this specific room of people. In the same way, we as an audience only cross paths with them briefly. There are layers upon layers of past incidents and conflicts upon which we can barely theorise, but which are undeniably relevant to the characters. Past clashes are mentioned briefly and moved on from, leaving us to theorise on the details of what actually happened. It would be easy to simplify this into a critique of the British middle class inability to face and verbalise emotion, but it feels more like this element of the play just offers a starting point to get into something both subtler and more pertinent.
In a certain way, it can therefore feel like the structure of the play itself is holding us back from really understanding what’s going on, but I would argue that it’s the lack of explanation that lets the play thrive. We’re not invited to know everything, and that lack of knowledge actually gives us the space to properly think.
Between Josh Taylor’s frenetic, panicked energy and Kathryn Pogson’s combination of fear and unacknowledged anger, there’s a whole lot of talent on this stage. With the virtually bare stage presided over by the bedridden figure of Mr Stone, played by Andy de la Tour, the character traits of his surrounding family are forced into an uncomfortably bright light. There’s no avoiding each other now, and there’s a growing sense that this is perhaps the most honest with each other that they have ever been or ever will be.
It’s an interesting play, because in many ways no new conflicts emerge and also nothing is actually solved. Instead, this is more of just a brief look in on a group of people trying to find ways to connect, figuring out which of their differences are acceptable and which cannot be overcome. It offers us a moment to just think about the slippery nature of family dynamics, without ever passing judgement or losing focus.
My Brother’s Keeper? is playing at the Playground Theatre until 23 March 2019. For more information and tickets, see the Playground Theatre website.