Review - This Is My Family at Minerva Theatre, Chichester

This Is My Family
This Is My Family

Ever since Daniel Evans arrived in Chichester three years ago as the cathedral city’s artistic director he has not flinched from challenging conservative audiences in ways that at times they have found excruciatingly uncomfortable.

His production of Cock in the intimate Minerva Theatre six months’ ago rather epitomized his fearless devilry.

But in lifting the curtain on the 2019 Festival he has dusted down from Sheffield something, on the face of it, far more restrained with Tim Firth’s This Is My Family.

It’s hyper middle class and Chubb-lock safe - like a conventional 1980s terrestrial TV sit com.

The plot line is paper thin - 13 year old daughter wins holiday competition after describing her ‘perfect’ family.

Only the family, in reality, is riddled with all the same doubts and disquiets that haunt rows of suburban detached.

Goth-dressing son, mid-life crisis obsessed dad, stay at home mum, and fading grandmother all form the hub of this modern-day if richly stereotypical musical - where every line is sung but not necessarily in rhyming couplets.

There are no ghastly skeletons in the cupboard. It’s just the inevitable day to day frictions that grind down so many homes, compressed and amplified.

The sheer calibre of the cast from national treasures like Sheila Hancock and James Nesbitt to relative fledglings such as Kirsty MacLaren as lead daughter Nicky give the first hint that this has more to offer than the storyboard suggests.

As we peer through the lens the play brings sharp meaning into focus - that families are more like their parents than they care to admit, even to themselves.

So by the second half as the music drives the message home, your thoughts increasingly turn to your own family. Your parents. Your children. Your partners. Not with a despairing eye - but with a pang of understanding and a resonance of love. It is oddly as powerful as it is pedestrian.

Hancock’s appearances mesmerize with brutal poignancy while Nesbitt resists any temptation to overplay his hand. So good to see Clare Burt back on stage too as mum Yvonne. After last year’s Flowers For Mrs Harris she has turned the downtrodden into an art form.

But the show belongs to MacLaren whose faultless self-assurance is utterly persuasive.

No wonder the audience rose to its feet as one.

This will challenge Chichester far more than many of Evans more daring choices - and yet it will comfort them more too. In a world never more unsettled by the politics of modern life, Evans has breathed a little reassurance into 2019 with this musical pebble polished by the cast to perfection.