Emotional labour is a necessary term, however misapplied it can sometimes now be, due to its high profile. John Fitzpatrick’s Reared is sympathetic to the often unnoticed burden which falls on women, to anticipate needs before the needs even manifest, to keep the house running smoothly, to pick up any slack. His full female characters scorch each other as they bump around their small, cluttered house, but we aren’t left with a particularly strong impression of what he’d like us to take from this.

Directed by bold & saucy’s Sarah Davey-Hull, the production fills Theatre503’s small stage perfectly, a realistic kitchen and some important, dangerous stairs which remain unseen. The family are Irish but in London, which is only part of what seems to weigh on grandmother Nora (Paddy Glynn). She’s growing forgetful and can’t manage too well on her own, while 15-year-old Caitlin (Danielle Philips) is pregnant. Father, Stuart (Daniel Crossley) is distracted and largely leaves Eileen (Shelley Atkinson) to deal with all of this, and meanwhile some shadowy parts of their family history seem bent on rearing their heads again.

There is a lot more in Reared besides this, which is what causes problems. Fitzpatrick’s narrative is fairly simple, but the punches to the characters’ equilibrium just keep coming, reveal after reveal, when they’re dealing with enough already. And yes, this is how life is, but this is theatre, which works differently. Rohan Nedd provides some welcome comic relief as Colin, but though the play bills itself as a dark comedy, humour doesn’t dominate here. It might do if fewer issues were involved, allowing for a tighter focus – perhaps on intergenerational malice and solidarity between women – as Fitzpatrick has great concepts in here already that would make for several compelling plays.

So much is going on in Reared that I have little sense of who Eileen as a character is outside of all this turmoil in her life, and it isn’t till the last scene that we are allowed to see her with Stuart and grasp them as real people, still affectionate and playful and carrying on despite all that has happened, like the rest of us. But then one more thing has to happen, for an ending which almost feels automatic in its expected quality, its slight horrific and surreal element, its ambiguous meaning for the audience. Fitzpatrick, I think, has so much within him that he’s capable of writing that this play suffers slightly from a lack of restraint and a certain streamlining. For a lot to think about, and to see a clearly able writer at work, see Reared.

Reared is playing at Theatre503 until 28 April

Photo: The Other Richard