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June 20, 2011 | by  | in Theatre | [ssba]

Meet the Churchills

It’s the 60s, rock music is on the move, the marital bed no longer is the only way to get any, and heigh ho it is Winston’s birthday. Mr Churchill, along with his emotionally despondent wife, caustically aggravated son, and harem worshipping daughter, gather together for a family luncheon to celebrate yet another unremarkable year in the life of a remarkable persona. Britain is changing, Winston is aging, the family are hating, and the wit is oozing. Consequences ensue.

In two and a half hours of heightened family drama, it is unfortunate that those same consequences didn’t warrant interest beyond the opening five minutes. Ray Henwood as Winston has two categories of delivery, virulent cynicism and curdled self reflection; whereas Helen Moulder’s purse lipped Lady Clementine is engaging in her softer charm, until it simply serves to emphasise our contempt for everyone else. Randolf, Churchill’s son-of-a-colossus, and played by Jeff Kingsford-Brown, is barbed to the teeth with wise cracks, projects a voice reminiscent of The Goons, and seems curiously cursed by what one can only describe as erratic jaw palpitations; juxtaposed against Carmel McGlone’s Sarah, played with an uncanny fusion of British glamour and suffering poet. All this history and more, finally eclipsed by the presence of Byron Coll’s semi-endearing Dr Jenkins of Oxford, a glassy-eyed youngster who has come to the house to write Churchill’s biography and plays as a mediator between the modern audience and historical documentation. This play would simply be better had not everyone on stage been so utterly unlikable. Moments of emotional truth are scarred with black humour, compelling the audience to laugh at the grotesque attempts of a family trying to pull itself back together.

The stage resembles a comfortable living room riddled with mock Victorian furnishings, a soft cream couch serves as the arena for most of the action (Randolf spreads his legs and clicks his jaw, Sarah drunkenly stretches from one axis to the other), with convenient open floor space to accommodate Winston’s wheelchair. The walls are coated in a teeming ‘20s floral pattern, unfortunately marred by an overlay of repetitious black stencils, creating a semi-abstract montage of Winston and his buddies through the war years. Aeroplanes feature, as does Big Ben, ground fighters, official portraits, sweeping landscapes. The effect is neither subtle enough not be a distraction nor does it compliment the naturalism of the theatre. It is simply unnecessary.

However, the greatest flaw of the play is that it is, put quite simply, dull. The cyclic nature of the story telling (5 people on stage, 3 people leave, 2 people on stage, duologue, reach an emotional climax, 3 people enter, 5 people on stage, we go through the whole process again) grew predictable and unfulfilling, whilst it was only a matter of minutes before you started taking mental bets as to who was to tackle whom in the next lengthy debate. The play in essence makes a poor attempt to critique Churchill’s policy, both public and domestic, but at the end of the day we must concede that maybe it isn’t so easy being important. This form of homage to Mother Britannia I would have considered outdated, but it should seem I was wrong.

Meet the Churchills
By Paul Baker
17 June – 16 July at Circa One


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