We Grew Up in the Back of a Van

We Grew Up in the Back of a Van is a fun and energetic show with a big heart.

t’s a fun piece of new writing well performed and well executed. Writer and director Katie-Ann McDonough, taking on the double job of writing and directing, demonstrates that the right person can clearly direct their own work well.

It’s a comical two hander performed with great energy by Charlton O’Connor and Charlotte Duffy. A fragmentary account of two sisters’ childhood, mostly spent in the back of their dad’s van, where swift turns and potholes are a recurring, bumpy problem. A black stage with boxes and toilet rolls, shaving foam and potatoes make up the set. Whilst the van is drawn on the floor with chalk. It’s simple and quirky and fits the tone of the script well.

There’s a joyous nostalgic quality about the play that is also often hilariously cringeworthy - as many things we remember from childhood often are. There’s a painfully funny shaving scene, a rather cruel but very funny game involving a suitcase and a set of stairs and a moment where the girls shoot at each other with potatoes. It’s distinctly and proudly Irish and a smart and engaging look at girlhood and growing up.

Another enjoyable aspect is the choreography. The girls’ synchronised moments work brilliantly as does the movement and particularly the sisterly battles. Fight Director Dominic Rose’s skills have been utilised to good effect and the physical squabbles are a very funny contribution to the show. Additional characters are imagined brilliantly by the comic duo including the girls’ infatuation – ‘The Boy’ mimed on a too cool for school, but not really cool at all, scooter. Then there is the sisters’ stern but sympathetic mum and a hilarious cross-eyed music teacher.

It’s a fun piece of new writing well performed and well executed. Writer and director Katie-Ann McDonough, taking on the double job of writing and directing, demonstrates that the right person can clearly direct their own work well. But there are a few improvements that should be made if the team want to take the piece elsewhere. The show opens and closes with a moment of drama, but we never fully understand what exactly happens and why. This needs to be fleshed out so the ending doesn’t seem so sudden. The show feels like it is building to something – but there is no full delivery of what that something is. Also moments of recorded speech don’t really work. They break up the flow of the piece and often get lost as you struggle to listen to a somewhat muffled and gimmicky recording. It would be more engaging if these moments were live like the rest of the show. Some lighting and timing also needs sharpening up to maintain the snappy fun that the script delivers.

But aside from these squabbles this is an enjoyable and solid piece of fringe theatre. Writer, director McDonough shows great creative flare, whilst O’Connor and Duffy have excellent chemistry and emit great energy and fun into this enjoyable Irish romp of childhood memories. It’s a fun and entertaining piece of theatre that, if sharpened up, could do very well at any fringe festival next year. 

Reviews by Dave House

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The Blurb

A fragmentary collage of two sisters’ memories of their shared childhood overlap and coalesce in a nostalgically evocative and distinctively Irish play.

Written and Directed By Katie-Ann Mc Donough

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