Electrifyingly emotional and filled with coarse humour, ‘Keepsake’ makes its world premiere at the Old Red Lion theatre this year. Rising American playwright Gregory Bream brings a complex family drama to the stage for his London debut as a seemingly jovial sibling reunion quickly turns nasty.
At once a shocking exploration into childhood trauma yet perversely funny, Abra and adopted sister Samara reunite over a few drinks in the wake of their father’s death as deep-seated resentment quietly bubbles beneath the surface. But when Abra calls on Samara to radically change her lifestyle for their ageing Mother, Samara delivers the blow she’s been waiting for since middle school.
Set in the intimate fifty person theatre at the Old Red Lion theatre, ‘Keepsake’ packs a hearty emotional punch with leads Lou Broadbent and Dilek Rose coping believably with the burgeoning family tension. Not being biased by overheating before the interval, this production still feels like it would be more successful in a larger venue with the cast’s exaggerated acting leaving a forced impression.
Broadbent gives a standout performance, subtly nuancing Samara’s superficial self-confidence with deep insecurity whilst James Corscadden’s short lived appearance as her ‘white trash’ brother was a highlight of the performance. There are few cracks in such a talented ensemble so it’s only a hyper critique to point out Rose’s weaker, slightly overplayed performance, however she flawlessly manages the vocal transition between the roles of mother and daughter.
Bream’s latest play is magnificently written, with Sean Martin’s production being beautifully well-paced throughout the first half but lacking the build-up to a strong climax, ultimately leaving you cold. ‘Keepsake’ is overflowing with multiple themes and storylines, becoming too chaotic at times but the production does a fine job of holding the threads together.
Katie Bellman’s traditional set, meticulously designed and built along with Will Scarnell’s simple yet effective lighting design complete this accomplished production in one of London’s leading fringe venues and my all-time favourite theatre.
Over and out,