views from the gods

saints and sinners of the stage and screen

The Family Tree
GBS Theatre
27th June 2016


Deborah Frances-White

Photography supplied by The Night Kitchen Cabaret

Ruby Kitchen (Roses Uquhart) runs a cabaret from her kitchen. Of course she does. If you had a name like that, you would too, wouldn't you? In The Family Tree, after being let down by a number of flakey acts including her own cousin Moldavite (Sophie Page Hall), Ruby calls upon her ancestors to fill the line up, bringing butcher and gentleman juggler Alfie Kitchen (Mat Ricardo) back from the dead purely to entertain us. Talk about pulling out all the stops, eh? Also joining Ruby on stage are The Boy Bun (Jordon Stevens), a psychopathic stray who Ruby seems to have adopted, neo-pagan glaciologist Mabel Trinkett (Jo Bowis) and angry French cook Sapphire Cuisine (Clare Barrett). Sammy (Paul Frankish) provides musical accompaniment, apparently a pianist as well as a jailer.

It's certainly an eclectic mix, with the framing of The Family Tree very reminiscent of a children's show. Just as in millennials' favourites Playbus or Balamory, we take a turn with certain characters and their own mini-subplots before wrapping everything up. It feels like there are plenty more relatives to meet, with the characters potentially rotating. (Which dead ancestor shall we dig up today, kids?) It transpires that The Family Tree is indeed the fifth outing of Urquhart's cabaret queen and chums, so the formulaic feel to the narrative arc does make sense. Although The Family Tree stands on its own out of sequence, I do wonder if we're missing any in-jokes or through lines from the previous forays into Ruby's life.

With Bun's stabby tendencies established, listening to him massacre Do Re Mi with Ruby is both apt and entertaining. We quickly get a feel for what sort of line is to follow, but Stevens' utter conviction sustains the humour for the entire song. Furthermore, there's something very pleasing about the daftness of Bun's haunting by the Bunmonger (Hall) whilst Mabel tries to invent a hangover-free gin using equipment that any mad scientist would enjoy. The majority of plot lines are just downright bonkers and yet played straight, which leads to plenty of laughter. There's never any suggestion that a joke is in progress, no, this is just how things roll in Ruby's East End kitchen.

Anyone who's ever played boardroom bingo will get a giggle out of corporate sponsor Circularity Thinking's Margaret (Hall) and Shona (Uquhart). There's certainly some blue sky thinking involved in the setup of the jokes, with Hall's hula hooping skills and increasingly distressed expressions very funny. Although Ricardo's tricks have been done bigger and better by many of his peers, he has a natural showmanship which elevates his performance. Sapphire and Ruby repurpose kitchen items into ridiculous puppets, playing out Sapphire's dark past, and this is bizarrely a real highlight. Sometimes it's wildly funny just watching Barrett spend a few moments glaring at another character without saying anything, she has a real gift for comedy characters.

Whilst each self-contained piece in The Family Tree is executed well, together they do feel disjointed, with the energy dipping in between. Uquhart makes a fabulous host, however as a director she sometimes loses sight of the bigger picture. She's put together a great cast and just needs to tighten up the action a notch. The Family Tree is 80 minutes of varied anarchy, told with charm.

The Family Tree opened on 24th June and runs until 2nd July 2016 at GBS Theatre.

Nearest tube station: Goodge Street (Northern)

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