Warm-hearted start to Chichester Festival Theatre's summer season

This Is My Family: Photo by Johan Persson
This Is My Family: Photo by Johan Persson

This Is My Family, Minerva Theatre, Chichester, until June 15

Summer 2019 at Chichester Festival Theatre gets off to a winning start with a rich and poignant look at family, that bizarre lack of choice which holds us together until we realise it’s what we’d actually choose.

Tim Firth’s musical gives us a family that’s lost its way, a group of people who have grown too far apart. Only the daughter has realised it, and it becomes her mission to reunite them. Her means is to submit an idealised description of them all to a win-a-family-holiday competition.

When she wins, she’s got to decide where she’s going to take them – assuming the wheels don’t come off completely first.

Across the three generations, the cast is superb. Sheila Hancock is the grandmother slowly losing the plot; James Nesbitt and Clare Burt are the mum and dad who’ve lost all sense of what first brought them together; and Scott Folan is excellent as the son who’s, initially at least, on another planet. Rachel Lumberg offers fine support as the well-meaning aunt.
But the night, without a doubt, belongs to Kirsty MacLaren as Nicky the daughter, wise beyond her years, trying to steer the whole lot of them back on track. Hers is a beautiful performance, thoroughly engaging – and always so incredibly expressive.

MacLaren is the beating heart in a piece which threatens to stall just a little towards the end of the first half – a piece which doesn’t quite realise it has made its point and needs to move on.
Things pick up again in the second half as the holiday from hell starts to unfold, Firth taking us back to his own Neville’s Island territory to teach the characters what really matters amid nature at its wettest and wildest.

Probably towards the end, the whole thing tumbles just the wrong side of sentiment into just a little bit of sentimentality, but there is so much to enjoy in the performances individually and collectively that you’ll forgive it anything – a tribute to Daniel Evans’ fine direction.... though he might perhaps try watching the show from the side. Richard Kent’s impressive, contrasting sets for the first and second half drag everything too much to the back of the stage, which will mean an uncomfortable evening of swivelling unless you’re watching front on.

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