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The House They Grew Up In - Minerva Theatre, Chichester

Updated: Nov 24, 2021

​Recently on the London Underground someone rather curtly told me to get out of the way so that he could use the interconnecting doors to the next carriage. Never mind that there was ample room (by Tube standards, anyway) in the carriage we were already in, or that the interconnecting door was clearly marked ‘Emergency use only’. I promptly moved, and rather than simply going through, he spent some moments standing there and taking me to task for being in the way in the first place. Due to the noise of the Tube rattling through the tunnel I did not hear everything he said, but I got the impression I was supposed to have supernatural powers, insofar as I should have anticipated in advance that he wanted to pass through where I happened to be standing, and that I majorly inconvenienced him as he had to ask me – no, tell me – to move. Of course, simply waiting for the next station for the main train doors to open on the platform was completely out of the question.

I know I’m out of London when I know beyond reasonable doubt that I was in the wrong, and come out unscathed. Before Doorgate happened, I sat in the Minerva Theatre in Chichester, to see The House They Grew Up In, a new play. It wasn’t on my list of things to see originally, but as I was in Chichester to see Fiddler On The Roof in the Festival Theatre, and tickets were still available for the other show, I thought I might as well stay on. The set is that of a cluttered house, somewhere in south London, with piles of bric-a-brac in every available space. “That looks like our house,” so said the chap who sat next to me. Without thinking properly, I blurted out, “I was just about to say!” which prompted the reply, “How do you know? You haven’t been to my house!” What I meant, of course, was that my own house was just as cluttered as the one we were looking at on stage, and having clarified that point, we engaged in some pre-show banter and all was well with the world.

Rudi Millard as Ben (at the performance I attended: the role is shared with Leonardo Dickens) is amazingly talented – this is not some RADA graduate taking on the role of a schoolboy, but a schoolboy playing a schoolboy. He more than holds his own alongside the adult characters, which is as much of a testament to him as it is to the playwright, Deborah Bruce, for writing such a credible character who gets convincingly annoyed / upset / elated / confused as circumstances arise.

Daniel (Daniel Ryan) is a man on the autistic spectrum. His sister Pepe (Samantha Spiro) is his primary caregiver. And, goodness me, is Spiro’s Pepe intense. Frantically trying to do what everything that needs to be done, it’s a tour de force performance that in lesser hands might well have come across as a whingeing and whining woman who would do better to expend their energy on what it is that needs doing rather than complaining about struggling to cope. But she has zero subtlety, and doesn’t really know when to stop talking, leaving PC Gordon (Michelle Greenidge) – and much of the audience – utterly bemused. No wonder Daniel would rather stick on his headphones and listen to music.

Quite why there are police officers in the show in the first place comes about as a result of Sophie (Mary Stockley), a horrible woman really, the epitome of a ‘shit mother’, contacting the police because her son Ben has been spending time with Daniel. Sophie and Ben live next door to Daniel and Pepe, and the friendship struck between Ben and Daniel is just a friendship. But it’s all grossly misinterpreted, and although Ben was always able to leave whenever he wanted (at one point Daniel tells him to go), Daniel is placed under arrest. It is assumed Ben was being groomed.

There always was lack of evidence, and because Ben stoically refuses to have charges pressed against Daniel, DC Nichols (Matt Sutton) has the unenviable task of trying to explain to Sophie why Daniel isn’t getting a life sentence without parole, or indeed any custodial sentence whatsoever. It transpires Sophie is far from blameless herself in the whole affair, which only adds to her unpleasant and distasteful nature.

At least some good comes out of the stressful chain of events, as exhausting to watch as it is for Pepe and Daniel to go through. As their situation has been brought to the attention of social services, Pepe finally gets some assistance, mostly if not entirely in the form of Karen Parry (also Michelle Greenidge: at this point the police investigation has been closed, and classified as ‘NFA’ – no further action), one of those relentlessly positive people, a sort of Pollyanna. The plot twists keep coming as Daniel turns his attention to Pepe’s past and her own problems. Moments of hilarity provide much needed comic relief – I’d tell you what they were, but it would give too much away.

It’s a well constructed, well cast and well performed production. Perhaps it’s just a bit longer than it really needs to be, but apart from that, it’s a play with depth: a thought-provoking night out.

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