Crooked Tree Theatre combine murder, intrigue, black comedy and a large dose of pure wackiness in their newest production, playing at the Hen and Chickens Theatre as part of the Camden Fringe Festival.
Billing the show as a “faux-Shakespearean tragicomedy”, writer Daniel Tremor has indeed done an impressive job of crafting a script that blends Shakespearean-esque dialogue with modern humour. Throughout, exchanges feel very natural, demonstrating Tremor’s obvious talent: the language could have easily felt much more forced than it did. While on first appearance the cast appear a little awkward, the stilted performances are largely smoothed out into confident depictions of this motley crew of relatives.
Particular stand-outs include James Ireland as the fantastically repellent James Ireland and Tremor himself, who works hard as writer, director and as manservant Charles. Hollie Jayne McCarthy also impresses as Mary, the maid who brings some semblance of normality into the warped family unit, and plenty of deadpan humour along with it. While not appealing to my own sense of humour as much, there’s no doubt that Joshua Buckland also raised laughs from many audience members as the farcically pathetic figure of Beatrice. Elsewhere, Adam Bloom appears a slightly nervous leading man but succeeds in tying together the whole production with his sardonic portrayal of frustrated son of the family, Sebastian.
However, while the language stylings and the performances are solid across the board, the plot goes from the entertainingly ludicrous to the rather laborious after the interval. The show could do with some judicious cuts in Act II, as it rather struggles to its dramatic climax, then is continued on too far beyond this. While Amber Savva, Sarah Green and above all Daisy Parkes do their best with the material, it feels as if too many new characters have been introduced too late in the day. The last scene in particular, once the grisliness has come to an end, limps across the finish line and it’s an unfortunate end to a show that, as a whole, has been full of energy.
Family Duels is a thoroughly bonkers affair, with cross-dressing, toilet humour, sexual deviance, gruesome violence and a gimp thrown in for good measure. However, Tremor shows great promise as a writer, if he can learn to complete his work with as much confidence as he begins it. While it’s certainly not going to be to everyone’s taste, Crooked Tree Theatre collectively have a strong vision and a clear idea of what they want to achieve. Moreoever, they have all the potential to accomplish it; what’s needed is some sharpening up and a ‘tough love’ approach to their own work, to prune it and shape it into something more consistent.