Our Brother David: Review

20th April 2012

Jill Glenn reviews 'Our Brother David' at the Watford Palace Theatre

Written and directed by Anthony Clark

Take your seats early, because the music that plays before ‘curtain up’ is excellent. Rolling Stones tracks such as ‘I Used To Love Her But It’s All Over Now’ and ‘You Can't Always Get What You Want’ set the scene for the drama that is to follow – and put you in a really good mood, too. It also gives you the opportunity to assess the set, which is pleasingly open, with a moody backdrop of painted interior walls that also hints at the colours of the broader coastal vista out of sight.

From the moment the music fades and the seagulls start to mew, there are some awkward and uncomfortable energies emanating from the stage. New relationships are examined in the light of ones that are over or have not yet begun. Haunting this unlikely and unwelcome family reunion between three adult siblings and their former brother-in-law is the memory of the dead woman by whom they are linked. Set in the summer of 2010, ‘Our Brother David’ mixes the tedium and explosiveness of family dynamics with bigger concepts, such as the state of the society in which we live.

There’s plenty about trust and honesty, and plenty more about love and loyalty, right and wrong; there’s even a wry look at the perils of being beautiful (particularly amusing given the recent furore over Samantha Brick’s hotly disputed paean to her own good looks). There is for me, though, something lacking somewhere in the plot. All the strands are good, but they need to be drawn together more tightly to give the piece real dynamism and edge.

Having said that, the core performance – Richard O’Callaghan as the eponymous David – is truly stunning (and he deserves the solo curtain call he doesn’t get). Yes, this is an ensemble piece, but it pivots around this man in fragile mental health, with a fondness for alcohol and a propensity for telling unpleasant truths both drunk and sober. His instability is troublesome to watch. This is a hard act to pull off, and O’Callaghan steers a fine line just the right side of caricature. There is some excellent writing here, too, as Clark gives some fine moral judgements to the most repulsive person on the stage. Clever stuff.

Some things don’t quite hit the spot. Frequent references to ‘our brother David’ sound rather formal and contrived; the allusions to local coastal erosion, surely meant to parallel the threats to the family and their future, are clunky; teenage Jason (nicely played by Hugh John) and elderly Althea are largely unnecessary.

Overall, though, it’s coherent and fresh, and it’s certainly good to see more new writing on the local stage. Congratulations to the Palace for reminding us that there is more to theatre than revivals and musicals.

Our Brother David runs until April 28. Details from the Palace Box Office on 01923 225671

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