Director Orla Ince delivers an absolute masterpiece with Appropriate at the Donmar Warehouse – a beautifully rich piece of theatre that is a joy to watch.
Written by Brandon Jacobs-Jenkins the drama takes place over 2 days as the Lafayette siblings return to their father’s plantation house in Arkansas in the deep south of America. Six months after his death, Toni and Bo have returned to clear and prepare the property for sale. The unexpected appearance of their younger brother Francois and his fiancée River, instigates the opening of old wounds and grievances and the creation of new battle lines and allegiances amongst the wider family. With the discovery of some shocking photographs amongst their father’s effects, each of the siblings starts to question who their father was, their relationship with him and the impact he has had on how they are living their own lives.
As the house lights go down at the start, the sound of cicadas fills the theatre and you are immediately planted in the heart of the deep south. The theatre stays dark for just slightly too long to be comfortable and that sense of being vaguely unsettled remains and is gently stoked throughout the performance.
This is a beautifully written piece that is hilarious in parts, but the sense of impending disaster is never far from the surface. The writer takes his time with the drama, slowly peeling back the layers of the story and the actors relish every morsel in every scene.
Monica Dolan plays Toni, the oldest of the three siblings. Recently divorced and dealing with the return of her son from rehab and his subsequent desire to live with his father, Toni is downtrodden by her life. She has never escaped the ties of her family. Having lost their mother at a young age, she stepped in to bring up her brothers, then soon after the youngest disappeared, she found herself taking care of her adored, ailing father. Toni plays the martyr, quick to belittle her siblings and fight any threat to herself assigned superior status in the family.
Challenged by Bo’s wife Rachel as to the type of man their father was, we see Toni’s righteous anger in all its ugly glory. Dolan is absolutely superb. She won the Olivier for Best Actress in a supporting role earlier this year and her performance here must surely see her at the very least nominated for Best Lead Actress this year. She is everything in this role and just an absolute joy to watch.
Steven Mackintosh is beautifully understated as Bo. We learn that the siblings were mostly brought up in Washington before their father moved back to the family home with his youngest son planning to turn it into a B&B. Bo has no affinity to the plantation house, having chosen to spend as little time there as possible while building a life with his wife, Rachel and two children in New York. Bo’s slow disintegration when faced with the layers of toxicity that seep through his family is brilliantly portrayed by Mackintosh.
Edward Hogg plays errant youngest sibling Francois, or Franz as he is known by his much younger fiancée River. Francois is a child man, his personal development stunted by drugs and alcohol and according to him, by spending his formative teenage years in the plantation house with his ageing father. Francois has returned to his family home after ten years, spurred by specific motivations and supported by River a part time vegan chef / qualified Reiki therapist who is every bit and nothing like the stereotype suggested. Tafline Steen plays the role perfectly.
This is a very strong cast. Jaimi Barbakoff is excellent as the trying too hard until she just stops bothering Rachel, while Charles Furness beautifully portrays Toni’s lost soul son Rhys.
Isabella Pappas is spot on with her performance of the self-absorbed daughter of Bo and Rachel, utterly oblivious to the family disintegration playing out all around her, while Orlando Roddy as Ainsley, Bo and Rachel’s young son, delivers the funniest, most shocking moment of the play.
This drama wonderfully depicts the bad behaviour that only comes when people are with family. It demonstrates how those closest always know which buttons to press. Appropriate is a superbly written, fantastically acted and beautifully directed play.
Reviewed by Emma Heath
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