Moving on from the dramaturgical structure and early monologues, the drama unfolds in a fairly standard melodrama fashion over the night before Laurence is moving to a residential care home, triggered by an anonymous call to social services. The knives have been out between the parents for some years it seems and they re-hash their old wounds in a raw if sometime overblown manner.
That they both loved Laurence, I was of no doubt. (But an over fondness for ruffling the puppet’s hair was inauthentic to me; the foot rubbing being closer to the mark - note also the foot rubbing was on the actor’s actual feet as there was no bottom half of the puppet)
The carer character was the most sympathetic apart from a strange flight of fancy from the character as to a notion that disabled people might be reincarnated animals - this didn’t seem in keeping with what we knew of the carer to me. I’m not surprised the writer was a carer himself, so sympathetically was the character written.
The father (Martin) was not particularly sympathetic. His anger and aggression were perhaps understandable although after 11 years or so, the portrayal of his handling of Laurence’s behaviour (eg when asking for more pizza, and then cake) was a little off. Still, the mother accuses him of mostly playing Xbox and by implication wasting his life. It was a little unclear how much caring he was doing (Laurence was also going to a school with 2-to-1 support). That the father wanted Laurence to stay at home was clear, whether this was the right decision by Laurence was less clear.
The mother (Tam) was more sympathetic than Martin but with many flaws and had a wider range of characterisation to play with, although again the feelings of being undesired and the need to be loved were well telegraphed - that it made the carer seem clueless that he didn’t see a potential clumsy pass coming at him. The anguish and guilt of what it means to be a good mother to want the best for your child, when the best thing might not be yourself, was well articulated. Charlie Brooks, playing Tam, had some fine character moments particularly in her quieter moments rather than the arguments.
But both parents had few redeeming features and so at their core didn’t quite feel authentically complete to me.
I think the phrase that many might pick upon would be:
“You can love someone and wonder what it would be like if they were someone else. That’s OK.” (spoken somewhat aphoristically)
But, I think the theme I pick up on is
Wishing the best for someone you love, might mean letting them go, might be supporting them in reaching their potential and their dreams.
If Martin truly supported Tam in her venture business… and made a success of her
If Tam could love Martin for who he was, not for who she wished him to be
If a young couple could grow together…
If Tam and Martin could put Laurence’s needs before their own… which ultimately they do
And which ultimately parents round the world do every day for the children they love.
Points to the writer for telling a story, not often told and bringing disability to the stage. Points to Southwark and the AD for staging the play. That the creative decision on the use of the puppet has gone down badly with many is unfortunate as we need more of these stories. Not less.
Read a positive Guardian review (MIriam Gillinson) here: https://www.theguardian.com/stage/2019/feb/19/all-in-a-row-review-autistic-child-puppet-drama-southwark-playhouse-london
A critical review here: https://britishtheatre.com/review-all-in-a-row-southwark-playhouse/