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All The Way Home Reviewed, Library Theatre

Joan Davies gives cautious approval to a Salford elegy

Published on October 5th 2011.

All The Way Home Reviewed, Library Theatre

THE LIBRARY Theatre’s current production ‘All the Way Home’, a world premiere by Salford-born writer Ayub Khan-Din is a family drama packed with plenty of northern comedy and sharp one-liners.  Ayub Khan-Din is best known for the film ‘East is East’ which started life on the Royal Court stage. 

This is a play and a production that will move many. There are no great surprises, but many familiar echoes 

This time he writes about an all-white family, just like the ones that surrounded his childhood home only a few minutes from where The Lowry now stands. This production, set in Salford, directed by Mark Babych, the former Artistic Director of the Bolton’s Octagon Theatre, and performed to perfection by a strong, largely local cast, certainly belongs in The Lowry, The Library Theatre’s temporary home. 

A family of six disparate siblings gather at the family home where the elder, unseen, brother Frankie is slowly moving towards death. The drama focuses on ancient hostilities and resentments, brought to the fore by the family’s unfamiliar proximity.  

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A tight dining-kitchen set built into a small section of the stage emphasises the claustrophobia of the situation and the emptiness outside.  Inside the siblings bicker and bond, while their part of Salford is knocked down in a drive for regeneration unlikely to benefit them. 

The fatal illness of the unseen brother, occasionally heard over the baby-monitor, mirrors the terminal decline of the community strength of life in Salford.  Khan-Din grew up in a Salford family of ten with the sound of the now-disappeared docks as a background to the sounds of family life and has an ear for the rhythms, sharpness and occasional sentimentality of local speech. 

The play’s strength is its portrayal of sibling bonds.  These have been stretched over the years and Frankie’s fatal illness forces his brothers and sisters to confront long-held but slightly buried animosities and grudges.  Their exchanges are played with strength. The parallels between the death of Frankie and the death of community lie between the lines. 

However it presents life in Salford as a choice between success, which involves ‘getting out’, and failure, which involves staying.  Brian the success has left for London and the arts world.  Carol has escaped too, but only as far as Didsbury.  Sonia has stayed, as has Janet, and though their lives are very different both feel themselves to be failures.  

So many dramas of working class life present this dichotomy that it borders on cliché.  I’d love to see more drama exploring the lives of the Frankies of this world.  Frankie had work, friends and was respected.  He will be ‘greatly missed’.  

On this occasion the sympathy card tributes are known to be true.  In All the Way Home he’s a symbol for the decline and death of a previous world.  There are still thousands of real Frankies in working class life, but it’s usually the Brians and the Sonias who make it to the stage. 

Kate Anthony, currently Auntie Pam in Coronation Street, plays Carol with a convincing air of Didsbury-derived snobbery apparent even before mentioning where she lives. Susan Cookson, gives a strong performance as Janet, the reliable hard-working sister who’s stayed behind and wonders what is left for her. 

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Sean Gallagher, once Paul Connor in Coronation Street is a confident, successful Brian, and Paul Simpson, a vulnerable and endearing Philip.  Julie Riley, gives an excellent performance as the foul-mouthed Sonia, the black sheep of the family.  Though the revelation of her softer, vulnerable side is hardly a dramatic surprise it’s played with subtlety and engagement.

Naomi Radcliffe, is underused in a rather stereotyped role as a young mother whose horizons are entirely limited to the life and afterlife her mother has mapped out for her.  Her mother, the family matriarch Aunty Sheila, is played by Judith Barker, whose well-practised timing and delivery gain a large share of the laughs. 

This is a play and a production that will move many.  There are no great surprises, but many familiar echoes and reflections brought to life by clear direction and grounded performances. 

Performances: Thursday 29 September - Saturday 15 October 2011. The Library Theatre @ The Lowry

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Christine KilbyOctober 9th 2011.

Saw this yesterday. Completely believable, great cast. I loved the comedy and the heartbreak equally. Brian is never quite forgiven for breaking away from his family to making a better life elsewhere. His sister Sonya, the self-appointed martyr/peacemaker, justified staying around by cleaning up the various family dramas and disasters. I could go on as every character was terrific and I wanted to know more about them all. In the end, it clearly made the point that family is family and these ties come to the surface in times of tragedy. Whether they would ever all get together again in one room seemed unlikely (except for the next family funeral) and I think they all knew it. Sad. Although changing Salford was the base it could represent many fragmented families anywhere. Note to the easily-offended sensitivity brigade: get past the swearing, which is perfectly in context, and you will love this play!

Christine KilbyOctober 9th 2011.

Sorry! Re above - I don't mean Sonya - she was the reformed crack-addict - I am referring to Janet.

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