Review: Table, National Theatre

“I have a world map on my door.
‘We’ll see if we can find Lichfield on it later’.”

As the Cottesloe becomes the Dorfman, among other changes, the National Theatre has erected a temporary space called The Shed to keep a third working venue in their complex and opening the programme there, is this original play Table by Tanya Ronder. A family saga that stretches across several generations from 19thcentury Staffordshire to modern day London, taking in trips to hippy communes and East African missions, and with a rather gentle grace, it explores the way in which the actions of our parents impact on the people we become and how easy it is to irrevocably hurt the ones we love.

It’s a densely told story, made more complex by a fracturing of the timeline which sees the focus constantly shifting between time periods, and it may take some getting used to. Rufus Norris marshals his deeply talented cast of nine, who cover thirty characters across six generations of the Best family, with a highly engaging playfulness but it does take a little time for the key pieces to come into focus and for the play to really coalesce into something affecting. But when it does get there, and it was the second half for me, its gentle energy and reflective charm make for a winning combination.

The constant presence across the eras and the continents is the sturdily built table which bears witness to so many of the activities of this family and bears their scars: not just sharing food but lovemaking, group debates, playing games, hiding from varied threats including a predatory leopard. And the stories that emerge the strongest are of Paul Hilton’s Gideon, thoroughly dislocated and unable to shake the dysfunction that characterises so much of his life (Hilton also plays his father), and Rosalie Craig’s sweet-voiced nun whose life doesn’t go quite the way she planned.

Norris introduces a lovely vein of musical accompaniment, ranging from contemporary pop to African songs and English hymns, all sung acapella and filling the space beautifully. And the simplicity of Katrina Lindsay’s design allows for the storytelling to take pride of place in what is an intriguing start for this new venue.

Running time: 2 hours 25 minutes (with interval)
Programme cost: £1
Booking until 18th May

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