Frankland & Sons is an intensely personal show, about an intensely personal family story. A genuine, real-life story.
That makes it tough to review. But here’s my honest view.
Tom and John, son and father (a retired drama teacher), put themselves, or certain a pretty exposing part of themselves and their joint relationship, on show for us.
And an occasionally fascinating part of their family tree – as discovered through the medium of a suitcase of letters that reveals the relationship over two wars from the Twenties to the Forties of their ancestors – between what are, really, a pretty ordinary couple.
These reveal minorly interesting bits of cultural history – certainly that couples didn’t necessarily wait for marriage, or very long at all, before hopping into bed together, contrary to popular opinion, and that soppy if unimaginative love letters were apparently de rigeur in the Twenties – but nothing really about the two individuals concerned, despite the fact that he’s living through two world wars, both times serving in Palestine.
The billing lists Jamie Wood as director, and perhaps he produced some of the more “stagey” scenes, and perhaps the timeline format that ties it altogether. But really this is a story that cries out for a writer, not too performers so close to it.
And while Tom shows occasional flashes of the professional performer that he is, there’s an awful lot of village hall pantomime in this show – perhaps intentionally, but not in a good way. I could have done without the semi-strip-tease and dance.
There’s several rather half-hearted attempts at audience participation – though don’t worry, no audience member has to talk or get up from their seat – which are clearly efforts to broaden the story, and make it about more than one family’s history, but they don’t really work, beyond producing an uncomfortable, embarrassed shifting of buttocks in the audience.
In the second act there’s a surprising, interesting, though not awful twist, which reveals that, without deceit, there’s been a powerful lie at the heart of the story.
But given we still know little about the people not on stage, the degree of hold this has on the audience is limited.
I left thinking I’d really like to know more about Barbara, who’s at the centre of the tale and clearly led an interesting, active, creative life, including working as a single woman in Occupied Germany just after the war.
But otherwise, sorry, I really just didn’t care about this bit of family history, which might have come out of almost any attic in the land.
Frankland & Sons continues until January 28 at the Camden People’s Theatre.