The Good Family / The Khomenko Family Chronicles, Royal Court Theatre Upstairs, London

Click to follow
The Independent Culture

No conflict, no play right? That assumption is tested to the limit and found wanting in The Good Family, a very funny and artfully perverse 30-minute play by the Swedish author Joakim Pirinen. Discord is as foreign to the infinitely contented family who are the focus here as lovey-dovey, group-hug happiness is to the House of Atreus in the Oresteia. As part of its excellent International Playwrights programme, the Royal Court is presenting Pirinen's piece, drolly translated by Gregory Motton and in a brightly bonkers, perfectly acted production, in tandem with The Khomenko Family Chronicles, a short new work from the Ukraine by Natalia Vorozhbit, which, in Sasha Dugdale's version, is a powerful mix of humorous and haunting.

In The Khomenko Family Chronicles, a working-class couple (Jeremy Swift and Samantha Spiro) bicker over their sick, hospitalised little boy, wondrously well played by Lewis Lempereur-Palmer. The bed-bound son is diverted by his parents' stories of how they came to meet and marry. These personal anecdotes involve public catastrophes. They got to know one another when their schools were given extra holidays in the wake of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster. Unfaithful Dad popped the question in the aftermath of the Twin Towers atrocity, using it as moral blackmail. With the little boy eventually launching into a solitary monologue that weaves what they have told him into a fairy-tale fantasy of security, the play creates a weirdly bittersweet mood.

Pirinen's The Good Family casts Swift and Spiro as the parents of a pair of dementedly well-adjusted young adults in a clan that beams so much at their conscious good fortune that your face muscles start to ache vicariously. They trip over each other as they rush to count their blessings there's a hilarious moment when the daughter (Daisy Lewis) performs a sudden back-flip followed by the splits. Even when the son (Harry Lloyd) announces that he's gay, there's only a fractional pause before the news is subsumed into the seamless soundtrack of voluble joy.

Why is the predominant tone one of strenuous reassurance? "It feels so nice that it's always going to be like this," is the final line, and the remark is tinged with foreboding.

Paul Taylor

To 21 December (020-7565 5000)

Comments