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This is My Family - Minerva Theatre, Chichester

There are some shows that might mention the name of the play or musical within the dialogue itself (never in Les Misérables, many times in Six). Nicky (Kirsty MacLaren) almost overdoes it in This Is My Family, particularly in the second half. I sat there thinking, “Yes, we know that this is your family, we’ve seen them, you’ve all been telling this story of yours for some time now.” But I suppose there isn’t any more repetition here than there is in any other musical. Steve (James Nesbitt), a sort-of Homer Simpson, is married to Yvonne (Clare Burt). Yvonne’s sister, Sian (Rachel Lumberg), is a regular visitor, the chirpy one, the happy one, the one who pops over often and is like a breath of fresh air in an otherwise fractious household. Steve and Yvonne’s teenage children are 17-year-old Matt (Scott Folan) and 13-year-old Nicky.

The show isn’t afraid of stereotypes. Steve’s mother, May (Sheila Hancock) is an older lady whose mental capacities are in decline. She apparently set fire to a lampshade with a scented candle – there must be some people of pensionable age who haven’t lost their wits. Indeed, there are. Exhibit A: most of the other members of the audience at the Minerva Theatre in Chichester (the venue is across the road from the Festival Theatre and under the same management) were retired or close to retirement. Nesbitt glared at me oddly at one point, possibly wondering whether someone under the age of fifty was even allowed in.

Matt goes into goth mode, the sulky teenager who eventually speaks so indistinctly that only other teenagers, such as Nicky, can decipher what he’s going on about. There are moments of proper laugh-out-loud humour – when Yvonne expresses frustration at Steve’s failure to put up a tent because he refused to heed the instructions, May brings the house down by replying that “a man who knows how to read an instruction manual will never give you a good time”. Life in this family is indeed anything but mundane.

This, of course, makes for good theatre. The set is extraordinary, changing from the interior of a Sheffield townhouse to some woodlands, even if it takes a good portion of the interval to make it happen, with large bits of set coming out via various exits, such that front of house staff had to temporarily halt audience movements. That they end up in the woods at all is the result of Nicky winning an essay competition, for which the prize was (rather implausibly) a family holiday anywhere in the world. The precise reasons for a camping holiday (as opposed to, say, a safari trip) are embedded in the narrative and are, I think, too much of a spoiler to reveal here, suffice to say it is Nicky’s attempt to reunite the warring factions of her family and help them to come together and appreciate one another as they once did. Aww.

It’s a unique musical, lacking the big song-and-dance numbers but also holding my attention through first-rate acting all round and an amusing storyline. The level of detail is impressive, both in the set and in the dialogue, which goes as far as to point out that school shirts are in the dryer. A most enjoyable and entertaining show.

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