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Review of This Is My Family by Tim Firth at Royal & Derngate (Royal), Northampton

It is very safe to say that I nearly didn't see This Is My Family. At first glance it wasn't something that appealed to me, a story of a family which sounded like a sitcom made into a musical. Well I wasn't sure. Yes I watched the early years of My Family and for those slightly older 2point4 Children and I wasn't entirely sure whether I desired watching something similar where, heaven forbid, they then broke into song. However my endless need to watch something because its there, coupled with the fact that it was in the wonderful Royal drove me there last evening. I am so, so glad that I did as it turned out to be one of my favourite plays I have seen this year (this was my 56th to give that some context!).

Telling the story of 13 year old Nicky (Evelyn Hoskins) and her tales/woes of her family and her winning of a family holiday for describing said family is the simple grounding for the play. As a chain reaction to that slight story the play weaves a stunning happy/sad/happy tale that everyone (and I think I really mean everyone) will be familiar with. This family of six will resonant in some way, be it the siblings conflict, the married couple, or the health of mother/granny. There is something which will be happy or slightly sad for all.

Holding the whole piece together is Hoskins, who is one of the most convincing 13 year olds you could imagine (played by a 26 year old!). She is captivating from her first appearance and moves effortlessly from speech to singing, with the most clear and solid of voice. Her parents Steve (Bill Champion) and Yvonne (Clare Burt) are equally a delight. Champion "Last Man Standing" is the typical man in mid-life crisis, attempting things at 11:30pm which he really shouldn't be and Burt the put upon mother worried about the impending departing of her offspring. They are both wonderful, particularly when performing together. Marjorie Yates as May, Steve's mother is quietly poetic as the ageing and religious elder lady. The slow forming of dementia performed, yes sadly, but oddly warmly, particularly with the repeating of that song that she just can't quite remember. These scenes are the most emotional of the play, but are never maudlin, just sweetly sorrowful. The opposite of this is the occasional arrival of the bombastic Rachel Lumberg as aunt Sian. The over the top relative with the voice command car and constant sexual need. She reaches her climax with the raunchy number that manages to couple those together, providing one of the funniest songs of the play. Perhaps most surprising of all however is Terence Keeley as Nicky's goth brother Matt, who after his indecipherable teen exchanges in the first act becomes a total revelation in the second as his own personal story evolves.

Not one of the cast is ever short of superb and indeed not one of musical debutant, Tim Firth's songs are a let down. Be they uplifting, like the marvellous title song "This Is My Family" or moving like the "Same Thing Twice", they all fit together solidly, moving effortlessly from speech to song with strong one liners in between. The set from Richard Kent is a wonderful backdrop to the delightful story. An oversize Wendy house, cleverly adapted throughout, especially in the second act. Music is provided on-stage in one corner (effectively in the front porch of the house) and is strong and jolly. Musical director Caroline Humphris (also on keyboard) in control at all times of her six piece group (including an accordionist!).

The whole production was a delight and so cleverly designed. Simple little things like the use of the Bop It toy as the steering wheel for the car drives (always hilarious scenes) coupled with a lovely neat little trick for the lake scene, made the whole production sweet, uplifting, funny, and heart-warming in every way you could possibly want. There truly isn't a way to have a better feel good evening in Northampton this week and I for one am so glad that I went. You should too.

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Performance reviewed: Tuesday 21st October, 2014 at the Royal & Derngate (Royal), Northampton.

This Is My Family runs at the Royal & Derngate (Royal) until Saturday 25th October, 2014 before touring to Coventry, Liverpool and Ipswich.

For further details visit the Royal & Derngate website at http://www.royalandderngate.co.uk/ and for touring locations at: http://www.sheffieldtheatres.co.uk/event/this-is-my-family-14/



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