“Go on then, table, speak. You tell us, you were there, you’ve always been there.” This table certainly was there, in the centre of every scene. Table, in the National Theatre’s new temporary venue, The Shed, takes an inanimate object and uses it as the basis for stories of love, loss, ghosts and the lives of six generations.
This table starts its life in Lichfield 1898, having being made by carpenter David (Michael Shaeffer) for his wife Elizabeth (Rosalie Craig). It witnesses the struggles between David and his son Finely (Jonathan Cullen) after Elizabeth dies, and eventually becomes a resting place for David’s body to be laid out on. It witnesses the family strifes, adultery and children’s play before being shipped to Tanganyika with Finley’s daughter Sarah (Craig) in the 1950s. Eventually, it makes its way back to England to be used by some hippies, including Sarah and her teenage son Gideon (Paul Hilton). After many traumas, the table finally ends up in South London in 2013, where we hear stories of its life unfold and see flash backs to its past.
Table has an uneasy, chilling atmosphere all the way through. Without much set (only a block stage and the table itself), and with dark scenery/lights and occasional sinister singing, I am occasionally unsure whether I am supposed to be laughing at some parts of the play. It also contains things that I personally dislike in theatre, for example there is full-on nudity, which I find tasteless. Some of the actors lack much talent in multi-role playing, which occasionally made me wince as they reminded me that I was simply watching people pretend to be others and stopped me becoming invested in the dysfunctional story. However, we cannot lay this burden on every cast member, as Paul Hilton and Sophie Wu exceptionally transformed from adults to young children, and Penny Layden’s switch from Mother Superior to a stuttering hippy was great.
This play takes a while to get your head around, as you have to work out who is who, how they are related and what exactly is going on, but once everything is laid out on the table and clear, it becomes moving and thought-provoking, even leading to a few tears near the end. Table is an interesting and relatable story of dysfunctional family affairs, the imperfection of everyone, struggling with forgiveness and coping with drastic change.
Table is playing at the National Theatre until 18 May 2013. For more information and tickets, see the National Theatre website.