The House They Grew Up In – Minerva Theatre

Chichester’s small and perfectly formed Minerva theatre is always at its best when telling a really human story. The proximity in which the audience sit with its company of actors is sometimes challenging (for actors and audience alike) but is most powerfully moving when examining the human condition.

When a space that is not much bigger than someone’s front room actually becomes someone’s front room there is an uncomfortable yet deliciously intriguing voyeuristic quality that can only be met in none but a few theatre spaces. Designer Max Jones has used this to his full advantage in his brilliantly detailed set for this co-production with the always terrific Headlong.

The piles of rubbish and clutter that form the house they grew up in of the title create a confused, oppressive and frightening world for us as spectators, but for Peppy and Daniel the siblings that have lived here since birth there is comfort in the chaos and familiarity in the filth.

Deborah Bruce’s play examines a kaleidoscope of issues around mental health and attitudes towards those living with the challenges that it presents. There are moments of clumsiness as Bruce uses external characters to invade the insular world of the struggling brother and sister but these are only brief. It is in the relationship between these two and in the portrayals given to them by the superb pairing of Samantha Spiro and Daniel Ryan that the piece excels in a beautifully poignant way which results in a rare display of hope and positivity in its conclusion.

It is with the arrival of the young boy from next door that really starts a chain of events to highlight the plight of Peppy and Daniel. Just as we, the audience begins to fear that we are to be taken down a very dark road with references to child abuse being made Bruce snatches us back just in time and shines the spotlight very firmly back on our perceptions of mental health and learning difficulties. A day to day struggle for the pairing along with a Godot like wait for the appearance of the elusive Uncle Manny results in a beautifully crafted twist towards the end that holds a magnifying glass up to our perceptions to that point.

Spiro gives an exhaustingly high energy performance as Peppy. With words racing from her at a hundred miles an hour and a physicality to match she is simply brilliant as her hyper activity gives way to utter confusion and bafflement of the world. In contrast it is in the beautifully observed stillness that Daniel Ryan succeeds in his portrayal of Daniel. The strength of both performances is that the tranquillity, kindness and love is never far from the surface. These are real people that deserve to be seen beyond their disability or their mental health label that people are always so quick to make.

Chiefly what Bruce has managed to write is a piece that refuses to follow normal dramatic rules in creating high drama but has written something truthful, thought provoking and genuinely touching.

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