John Fitzpatrick’s play Reared looks at an inter-generational family and asks, how do we care for everyone without giving up everything?

There are three generations and a fourth on the way. Eileen (Shelley Atkinson) is taking care of her pregnant teenage daughter Caitlin (Danielle Phillips) and her deteriorating mother-in-law Nora (Paddy Glynn). Eileen’s husband Stuart (Daniel Crossley), doesn’t seem to be taking care of anyone. Reared explores this modern family’s dynamics & power struggles and looks at how we care for each other.

Reared Theatre503

Daniel Crossley, Danielle Phillips, Shelley Atkinson & Paddy Glynn (image courtesy of The Other Richard)

There could be no better setting for a family drama than designer Sammy Dowson’s compact kitchen. Dated and worn, with mismatched furniture and unfinished projects, it’s both a nod to the family’s financial status and a familiar home. While Eileen spends a lot of time looking after it, Stuart works, Caitlin gets moody and Nora needs help with the stairs. The characters are soon released from these stereotypes though – a strong ensemble cast delivers rounded human beings and delicately reflects the struggles of today’s different generations.

Caitlin (Phillips) and her friend Colin (the delightfully endearing Rohan Nedd) talk about sexuality and body image, and Eileen (Atkinson) opens up about her post-natal depression – a particularly moving scene. At times there’s too much to take in, too much to process, but the individuals’ vulnerabilities make for the production’s most likeable and credible moments.

Reared Theatre503

Rohan Nedd & Danielle Phillips (image courtesy of The Other Richard)

John Fitzpatrick’s narrative is about an inter-generational family, but it is Nora’s story that is the crux of the action. Her increasingly erratic behaviour is the source of tension for both the family and audience. Lights flicker and a foreboding, thumping soundscape by Dominic Kennedy plays between each scene. Eileen and Caitlin joke – there’s lots of joking – about letting Nora slip down the stairs. But there’s an edge. You wonder whether they’d actually do it. Nora’s condition, her getting old, is pushing her caregivers to their limits.

We’re an ageing population, which has implications for both individuals and society as a whole – Fitzpatrick’s play is remarkably attuned to this. How do we care for those who cared for us without giving up everything? Reared captures the conflict between selflessness and selfishness that is rooted in family life. There is love between these characters but they’re also vehemently fighting each other to get the lives they want. Nora fights to stay in her home, Eileen fights to get her out and Caitlin fights to go to a life-changing audition.

Reared Theatre503

Daniel Crossley & Shelley Atkinson (image courtesy of The Other Richard)

The mood shifts dramatically once Eileen and Stuart are free from both the young and the old – the newfound boundless energy and wide grins don’t quite strike the right chord. The pair seems callous rather than simply unburdened and it’s not relatable. Thankfully this doesn’t overshadow the tenderness in Sarah Davey-Hull’s production too much. When Nora asks Caitlin why she doesn’t come up to her room anymore, I felt an urgent need to see my own grandma.

Fitzpatrick’s play unmasks our flaws and urges us to do better. It reminds us that if we ever find ourselves struggling to cope with the demands of a job we didn’t sign up for, the job of caring for those who reared us, we should try to remember that they have never stopped caring for us.

 

 

★★★☆☆

Reared runs at Theatre503 until 28 April 2018. For further information, please visit the venue website.