Thursday, 15 October 2009

Expectations - Contact Theatre, Manchester

Writer: Kristina Brandan Whitaker
Director: Guy Whitaker
Reviewer: Clare Howdon

The world premiere of Kristina Branden Whitaker’s play ‘Expectations’ currently playing at the Contact Theatre is a joint production between Swedish company ‘The Gothenburg English Speaking Theatre’ and UK based ‘Fink On Theatre’.

It tells the story of two couples whom despite being far apart in location (Mattias and Klara live in Sweden whilst Theresa and Paul reside in Salford), are alike in the fact that both couples have to face the daunting and unenviable prospect of raising a severely disabled child with a rare chromosome abnormality, whilst desperately attempting to keep their own flailing relationships on track. The play follows the journey of how this news and the character’s ultimate decisions, fears and secrets eventually bring them together in a heart-wrenching and unexpected ending.

This is a real gem of a play. It is hard to believe that ‘Expectations’ marks Kristina Branden Whitaker’s debut as a playwright as this brutally frank and honest account of the trials and tribulations of the two family units is written with honesty, elegance and wit throughout. The genuinely funny dialogue between Theresa and Paul is juxtaposed beautifully with some truly poignant moments, ultimately packing a hard punch to the audience whilst never becoming overly sentimental.

Gary Whitaker’s sleight of hand direction ensures that this delicate writing avoids feeling forced or overly staged, and dialogue is slick and well-paced. This is also perfectly complemented by a multi-functional ‘IKEA inspired’ set by Ger Olde Monnikhof, which adds to the claustrophobic atmosphere of the piece and makes the desperation and helplessness of the characters almost tangible. The only criticism I would have is that scene changes were a little long and cumbersome and sadly slowed down the pace in some crucially tense moments.

‘Expectations’ cries out for an extremely high calibre of performers that can do justice to the bitingly emotional and sometimes uncomfortable writing, and luckily this four-strong cast do not disappoint, all turning in effortlessly believable performances throughout. Sally Walsh is fantastic and entirely empathetic as the doting mum with a sharp tongue Theresa and the on-stage chemistry between her and Nick Mason as husband Paul is a pleasure to watch. Johan Orjefelt and Kristina Branden Whitaker also turn in subtle and honest performances as Mattias and Klara, living in the painful aftermath of their daughter’s death.

It is always refreshing and exciting to see new writing of this calibre and the company should be congratulated on creating such a powerful and engaging production.

Photos: Lina Ikse Bergman
Runs until Sat 17th Oct
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