Friday 13 January 2012

An axe to the family tree

Frankland & Sons, Camden People’s Theatre, London

At the heart of this real-life father and son two-hander is an unearthed secret that takes an axe to their family tree. It cuts their entire through-line and leaves behind limp threads that need reorganising and retying.

What starts as a scatty and flitful stage equivalent of Who Do You Think You Are?, birthed from a suitcase of love letters discovered left behind by grandfather Len, grows into a genuine attempt to handle new information and heal unexpected wounds. Tom Frankland and his father take on the repair-job together. There is a gorgeous final reflection: ‘I always knew. Even when I never knew or thought about it, I always knew’.
Like a home-made Father’s Day present, Frankland & Sons is to be prized not for itself, but for the love with which it is made. It seems held together in a tangled clot of sellotape and string, but the thought that counts is abundantly clear and worth displaying. Shambolic and clumsily executed – intentionally, though its unclear whether by design or acceptance – the piece has the feel of scrambling in the attic.

The biggest pleasure is to watch such an unnatural performer and have-a-go hero as dad John Frankland. Never entirely sure what’s going on, never quite in control, he makes a sweet and amusing stage presence. When he knocks a picture off the wall, his son darts over to patch the show together. When his trousers fall down, his son chuckles gently and steps in to cover his modesty. The relationship itself is beautiful: unforced, tender and fragile.

But that’s not really enough to nourish an audience and the first half, in particular, never breaks through from personal landmarks to universal appeal. It takes an hour to deliver the main thrust, because it needs to set up the lineage that becomes endangered. Nevertheless, without that, it is a series of births, deaths, loves and losses like any other.

The Franklands attempt to perk it up with sketch show assembly and a preference for humour – much of which doesn’t land – over honesty, but it never adds up to much more than fluff and flotsam.

Till 28 January 2012. Then touring.


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