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The Stolen Inches
31st July 2015


Publicity image for The Stolen Inches

Photography provided by The Small Things Theatre Company

There are plenty of things for which I blame my long-suffering sister. Some are actually her fault, others are just things I feel can plausibly be pinned on her and therefore should be. Now, the things she's tried to pin on me, they're unfair. Our parents should side with me! Irrational? Kinda. Normal? Absolutely. Siblings rarely think they're being treated equally, even when they are. In Cordelia O'Neill's play The Stolen Inches, Simon (Ed Howells) blames his parents Susan (Holly Blair) and Bernard (Neil Andrew) for stealing his height and giving it to his brother, Sebastian (Philip Scott-Wallace). There's actual favouritism, perceived favouritism and downright insane. No guesses for which camp this Napoleon falls into.

Not only is Simon mad about the apparent height theft, he's going as far as to litigate against his parents. With Bernard and Sebastian in the media business, it's been surprisingly easy for shoe-maker Simon to arrange for them all to appear in their own reality show. The Wenlocks are nothing if not a family who know people who know people. The result is a sort of Big Brother meets Jeremy Kyle meets Keeping Up With the Kardashians. Simon has been ignored for way too long and he wants his voice to be heard - oh, and on national television. Because why not?

At the core of this story, you have an overprotective set of parents, one son who is trying desperately to live up to expectations, and one who feels pushed out, unable to see what makes him different is what makes his family cherish him so. He feels inadequate, but he is loved. There's a highly complex and powerful dynamic crafted by O'Neill, together with some utterly beautiful characterisation. However, this has all been steamrollered over with a big, bold funny title and intriguing blurb, which really isn't necessary and initially makes the protagonists seem much less developed than they are. It seems as if O'Neill has felt some kind of gimmick is required to flog her work, but she's a much better playwright than perhaps she realises.

The documentary framework allows director Danny Wainwright to get all the characters to address us directly and bare their souls one by one, and to splice parts of conversations over each other, to emphasis the Wenlocks' lack of meaningful communication. However, it's the more natural off-camera moments which pack a punch. Bernard looking at Simon's sketches and Simon realising from his proud expression that his father doesn't think he's half as useless as he supposed. Susan seeking forgiveness from her husband for a situation she feels she's created. Sebastian desperately leaving an answerphone message, trying and failing to express his real self, rather than the cocky TOWIE persona he's invented for his line of work.

The players, their characters and their back story are wonderful. Blair in particular manages to navigate from humour to guilt in a heartbreakingly convincing way. It just feels like some of the plot is too incredible, and whilst that does create plenty of laughs, it also lessens the impact of the more emotional scenes. The concept of Simon litigating against his family for them stealing his height could be easily tweaked to Simon just taking his whole family to group therapy counselling because he thinks being the shorter brother makes him the unwanted one. No cameras, no unbelievable legal action - just one dysfunctional family trying to unravel their problems. That change would elevate this from a good show to an excellent one.

The Stolen Inches is certainly a funny, moving and beautifully-acted production with some gorgeous characterisation. There's a slightly better version of this story to be told, but you won't regret spending an hour with Wenlocks up in Edinburgh.

The Stolen Inches ran on 31st July at Carousel. It then opened on 6th August and runs until 26th August 2015 at C Venues - C Nova (Venue 145), as part of the Edinburgh Fringe.

Nearest tube station: Baker Street (Bakerloo, Jubilee, Metropolitan, Circle, Hammersmith & City)

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