Three tables, each filled with the paraphernalia of different daytime meals; on each table, there’s an hourglass, progressively smaller. From the start, the staging of this piece focuses the audience’s attention on the passage of time, complemented very well by an aural patchwork of people half-remembering old songs. Yes, there’s a sense of loss, yet there’s also a feeling of genuine contentment about lives well lived.
Kin is about many things, but they are all hooked on the changing relationship between people and their parents at the point when childhood stands ‘right next to’ adulthood — that is, when a middle-aged ‘child’ has to take responsibility for an increasingly elderly parent. Of course, that common point in our lives touches on so many other issues such as our own fears about growing older, our increased reluctance to discuss or even consider death — be it that of our parents or even ourselves — and the surprising emotional realities between siblings when it comes to family.
The performance is grounded on video interviews with five people, all well-established (if not publicly known) in British theatre. Some of their parents were very much alive at the time of filming, others had lost one or both parents within the last few years. The five interviewees’ contribution is, for the most part, measured and contemplative, at times all too aware of the subjects they deliberately don’t want to talk about but know they should. Yet there is one heart-rending sequence in which the actor and director Alison Peebles expresses her own fears and guilt over not being physically capable of helping her mother.
Describing herself as a ‘conduit’ between those on screen and the audience in the room is the Kin project’s creator, Donna Rutherford. Although her presence can sometimes seem a tad unnecessary, in fact Rutherford’s comments and songs provide the necessary punctuation for the piece, setting the context and establishing its tone. She is the constant reminder of the need to face up to, if not yet fully understand, the consequences that a whole host of societal issues have on family relationships — from increasingly later parenthood to improved healthcare — that result in parents and their children spending much longer in each others’ lives than was once the case.
In a nitpicking way, there are a few minor technical issues; for example, at one point, one of the three screens zooms in on a particular image, but is clearly on a default setting and so misses the person in the frame. However, as a few sniffed back tears in the audience suggested, this is an emotionally profound work that deserves to be experienced.