The publicity material states that UnTied Productions was set up as “a creative outlet with a desire to produce plays which focuses’ on extraordinary dilemmas in ordinary lives.” Out Of Step, the debut play by UnTied’s co-founder, Eddie Palmer, is certainly a commendable attempt to explore this criteria.
Directed by Hamish Clayton, the play takes a recognisable theme, saying goodbye to a home full of memories, and uses it as a prism through which to explain the dysfunction at the heart of an apparently unremarkable stepfamily. As we are introduced to the five adult step siblings as they arrive for one last meal in their parents’ home, old childhood hierarchies, rivalries and prejudices are exposed often to great comic or dramatic effect. Out of a strong ensemble cast, Eoin McKenna stands out as the intense, self-obsessed would be poet, Edward. Not only does he deliver a nice line in witty put downs to his siblings’ witterings but he also displays vulnerability and engenders sympathy when he learns an earth shattering secret from his childhood. Inspired casting and styling, too, leaves the audience in no doubt that Edward has always been the odd one out in the family.
Edward’s secret, however, is not the plot twist that ruins mother Julia’s (Louise Tozer) dream of a happy family gathering in Out Of Step. That twist is instead delivered by Julia’s only daughter, Georgia (Esme Lonsdale, who also produces) and her stepbrother Luke (Kit Loyd). While still surprising and with a capacity to change the family dynamic forever, I felt it was revealed too early with the result that the play lost some of its tension and direction from that point. This wasn’t helped by the fact that while the first half had been a tight, fast paced introduction to the ensemble, it felt as if too much time was spent in the second half exploring the relationship between Georgia and Luke at the expense of other characters. Tozer, and Brian Marks as Julia’s husband Jonathan, showed great potential as the parents who found it difficult to accept change and that cake was the answer to all life’s woes but their characters were a little underused. Georgina Armfield too, put in a creditable performance as Jenny with a constant air of slight superiority but the character wasn’t really developed. Xenia Klein was sparky as Louise but as with Edward, her story was somewhat overshadowed.
Strong direction made good use of the small stage with body language providing valuable clues to personalities and feelings, particularly from Tozer, Marks and McKenna. Inventive set design saw a pile of packing cases mark out a division between the parents and children at one stage, effectively illustrating the generation gap in norms, values and behaviours.
As an exploration of that fast increasing 21st century phenomenon of the step or blended family, Out Of Step speaks of and to our times. It just might have been more convincing if all the characters had been given more to say.