Heart-searing revival of a dark Welsh classic
The world is not short of explorations of the murky side of the American dream, but there aren’t many set in a claustrophobic house in Wales where death, derangement and the impossibility of work, money or any kind of escape just keep grinding the life out of a family.
Ed Thomas’s dark, original House of America finds Boyo (Robert Durbin), Gwenny (Evelyn Campbell) and Sid (Pete Grimwood) left to care for an increasingly demented Mammy (Lowri Lewis) when their truck driver father abandons them for a new life in California.
While Boyo struggles to grip on to reality, elder brother Sid and then younger sister Gwenny become obsessed with Jack Kerouac’s trippy classic On The Road, losing themselves in fantasies of a big-skied, open-freeway America that couldn’t be geographically or metaphysically further away.
The Jack’s capacity for finding mesmerizing older plays that are both right up-to-the-minute and dramatic gold remains one of its many strengths.
Thomas’s 1988 play, filmed in 1996, began a career that has made him one of Wales’s most respected playwrights, and original writer of the BBC’s Hinterland, and the power of spare dialogue and deep familial bonds makes this a gripping work, a car crash you can’t take your eyes off.
The bleaker side of the human condition is never far from his work, and the stylised set the Jack has built for the House of America, a heap of coal here, a pile of Special Brew cans there, instantly talks of depressed hopes.
Boyo represents as much optimism as there is here, seeking a job at the new mine, keeping his Mam going, trying to stop Sid making Gwenny as hedonistically irresponsible as he is. Durbin’s bewilderment at Boyo’s inability to stop events and actions destroying his siblings is painfully lovely. Campbell’s capacity to show pain as Gwenny seeks brittle pleasure from drink, drugs and dance would melt stone.
But even Boyo can’t cope with the family secrets revealed as the open cast mine comes closer and closer to destroying what little they have. And for Sid and Gwenny in the end, living the dream beats living the life, if they never wake to the nightmare they’re creating.
HOUSE OF AMERICA
Presented by Ysbrid London and Free Fall Productions
Box Office: 0333 666 3366, or www.brockleyjack.co.uk
Reviewer David Weir’s Confessional, featured in the Oran Mor Play, Pie, Pint season in Glasgow in May. The post-referendum family drama Better Together was winner of the Write Now Festival at Brockley Jack Theatre, London (2016). Other plays have been performed at the Arundel and Windsor festivals, Greenwich Theatre, the Isle of Wight, and a pub lunchtime theatre in Perth, Australia. Better Together (2015) and Legacy (2011) were longlisted for the Bruntwood Prize, and Legacy shortlisted for the King’s Cross Award. He won the Constance Cox Award in 2015 and was a Kenneth Branagh Award winner in 2011.