Parents’ Evening

The Rebels’ Season continues at the Jermyn Street Theatre with Bathsheba Doran’s Parents’ Evening. In this case the rebel is the ten year old child of a nameless middle class couple referred to as simply Mother (Amy Marston) and Father (Peter Hamilton Dyer). Delinquent daughter, Jessica, never makes an appearance, which in some ways is a pity as a few tantrums from her and some flaming arguments with her parents might have spiced up what is otherwise a rather tedious play.

A rather tedious play.

As the title suggests, it’s parents evening at the daughter’s school. The play is divided into two acts: one before and one after the event. In the first half a number of the girl’s offences are related. Her misdemeanours increasingly serve as a stimulant to expose the underlying issues affecting the couple’s marriage. Mother is a career woman who spends much time out of the house, though she contests that, and is doing everything she can to ensure her rise to partner level in the law firm. He, meanwhile, assures her that although he is at home every day, he is working equally hard writing his novel. The downside is that the process has been going on for some time and the finished work is nowhere in sight. He clearly lacks a certain amount of imagination and inventiveness if the cause of his writer’s block is how to get his heroine from an unspecified location to Portugal where he has set the bits he’s written.

Act one is a to and fro of rather lethargic antagonising, whinging, moaning and repetitious harping on about the other’s shortcomings and where the blame lies for having created a monster. Act two continues in much the same vein, although at one stage the debate does become more animated and reach the height of a real row. Inevitably, parents’ evening doesn’t go well and dealing with the school’s suggestion on how they might all be helped serves to heighten the feuding.

Marston’s promotion-obsessed mother has credibility and her frustration at clearly not handling the balance between her job, her husband and her daughter as well as she would like is clearly evident. She portrays a mostly cool legal mind in the face of endless provocation from her husband’s petty bickering. If Doran’s intention was to make Father a rather obnoxious, unpleasant, self-obsessed, irritating individual then Dyer undoubtedly succeeds. He creates a very unattractive, ageing bohemian boy who probably contributes considerably to his daughter’s deviancy, not least by smacking her. Those of us with devious minds might well see this as a veiled suggestion that other abuse could well exist, but that’s probably another story.

The play takes place in the couple’s bedroom. Charlotte Espiner’s bland cream and white creation with a double bed centre stage surrounded by uniform fitted wardrobes from floor to ceiling might be symbolic of the divisions that exist between Mother and Father as they argue from either side of it. Or it might not. In either case the space feels cramped and looked uncomfortable to perform in.

A final quibble has to be with the promotional material for this production. Two quotations from the New York Times appear under the heading ‘Praise for Bathsheba Doran’. However, ‘A piercing portrait of contemporary social architecture. Simply terrific….perhaps the finest new play of the season’ refers to her play Kin while ‘ A perfectly wonderful new play‘ was said in respect of The Mystery of Love & Sex. What the NYT said about Parents’ Evening is in marked contrast to these statements and would not encourage anyone to see it.

Director Stella Powell-Jones has done what she can with with this rather tiresome script but it might well have been more entertaining to spend the night at a real parents’ evening.

Reviews by Richard Beck

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★★★★

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Performances

Location

The Blurb

“Would you please remember that it’s not us they’re assessing.”

She’s been disruptive in class. She’s rude to the teachers. And now she wants to learn the trumpet. But whose performance is really being judged? A mother and father prepare to discuss their daughter’s progress at the local primary school, but their rare opportunity for some quality time together begins to test the bonds of love, work and family.

Charged, passionate and surprising, Parents’ Evening is a fierce and funny play about modern marriage and parenthood. This European premiere marks the homecoming of a major British talent already acclaimed in America.

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