Theatre review: The Smack Family Robinson, Rose Theatre, Kingston


Keith Allen and Denise Welch head a clan akin to criminal (and drug-dealing) von Trapp family

The Robinsons - the clan at the heart of Richard Bean's latest, intermittently uproarious new play - are to drug-dealing, money-laundering and protection-racketeering in Petersham what the von Trapps were to yodelling while wearing curtain material in the Alps and to giving collective voice in pan-Austrian singing contests.

The Robinson's trade and metier dates back to the Sixties when the  seedy patriarch Gavin (one of nature's “roadies” in Keith Allen's oddly likeable portrayal) wanted to inject a bit of colour, chemically, into a black and white world.

A thriving family business grew from this. Denise Welch (a former Celebrity Big Brother winner) gives a pitch-perfect and very funny performance as his wife, Catherine, a woman who is 24-carat bling and who reluctantly runs a florist's (with a £2 million turnover) as a front. 

She'd been expelled twice by the time she was eighteen so she feels that her daughter Cora (Kate Lamb) is letting the side down badly in choosing a catering course over crime. But fings ain't wot they used to be, generally. The Russian mafia have muscled into their patch, chopping the legs off debtors. And there's the small matter of the daughter-in-law who recently died of a heroin overdose that she couldn't, at least non-miraculously, have administered to herself.

In Richard Wilson's adroit and attractive production, the play (which revises an original version seen in Newcastle ten years ago) now emerges as part of a spate of recent pieces (including Love, Love, Love at the Royal Court and The Last of the Haussmans at the National) in which the younger generation bite back at their feckless baby boomer parents. 

Bean's contribution to this sub-genre is, characteristically, the least politically correct of the lot. My favourite character is perhaps the most morally despicable (there's strong competition). Harry Melling's hilarious Sean is a “Jafaican” (as they say) whose studied adoption of dude talk and body language is as mannered, in its way, as the flights of verbal artifice in Restoration Comedy. He's just bought a metal crucifix from the Argos Jewellery Range but not one of those with a Jesus because he finds them “bit busy”. Much of the comedy flows from how the family are sticklers for values - just outrageously the wrong ones, as when they catch Sean watching porn and fondling a newly heroin-injected groin and jointly scream at him for wearing trainers while on the shag-pile rug.

Bean is better at minting gags than at shaping plot – the latter only coming together in a second act when the Robinsons start to make the House of Atreus look like the Waltons. Still, a very enjoyable evening.

To 20 April; 08444 821 556

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