Jane Asher heads up a great cast in this empathic family drama
Families are hard work. No news there; playwrights have been dining out on them for centuries. But as Andrew Keatley’s ‘The Gathered Leaves’ shows there’s still much to be learnt from our kith and kin. Keatley paints an empathic portrait of the undulating and continuous nature of clan conflicts; we may seek resolution but it will never come. Maybe realising that is the key to getting along.
For all its insight in some ways this text is as old fashioned as its subject. The Pennington family have gathered at their crumbling pile under the behest of their dying patriarch William. They wear Barbour jackets and speak in the clipped tones and fruity vowels of the upper class. They battle to communicate with each other daily. Close your eyes and you could be in the 1930s West End.
Open them and you realise you’re not. Set on the Park 200 thrust stage, Anthony Eden’s production brings the action right to you; sometimes as painful revelations pour salt on old wounds it feels too intrusive, but it’s also what keeps you gripped.
Eden also brings a trick of the past – big name casting – crashing into our ‘over share’ present with Jane Asher and her real daughter Katie Scarfe playing onstage mother and child, Olivia and Alice.
Although this should add an extra frisson, it doesn’t, because Alice feels a little thinly drawn. But it doesn’t matter because Asher on her own is excellent as the passive matriarch desperate to ensure everyone is fine. In fact all of the cast are on top form, particularly the core Pennington crew. Behind the meticulous diction, their stiff upper lips tremble, revealing a much messier truth before realigning almost imperceptibly into the platitudes of the past.