Writer: Michael Marshall
Director: Laura Bowler
Reviewer: Laura Marriott
A well lived in kitchen, with children’s toys and fairy lights under the table dominates the stage with a door either side; one leading to an unseen upstairs, another leading outside. This door is always closed. Soon two brothers enter the stage. Jacob is seventeen and tense. Lucas is ten, in blue pyjamas, red socks and smiling. It takes a moment to realise what is missing from the domestic scene. The brothers are alone. Their mother has been gone for years. Their father, a drinker left one night. They are waiting for him to return, which helps to explain Jacob’s tension. As the older of the two he has taken on the role of parent. He is helped by his friend Terry who is loud, brash and sweary. She also loves Jacob and Lucas and tries in her own way to help. Her character is a little exaggerated but she brings warmth and comedy to the play.
The audience enter the theatre to the sound of 90s music: The Spice Girls, Madonna, The Backstreet Boys. Although not everyone would admit to it there was a lot of singing along and heads bobbing. Music is an important part of this production. Lucas plays and bonds with Jacob and Terry through music. They sing out loud, dance, jump about the kitchen with abandon. It is fun and beautiful. Music and recordings also plays a pivotal role in relation to their parents. The support team have done fine work on the sound, costumes and setting which complements the actors and narrative movement at all times.
Jacob has struggled to keep their parent’s absence a secret. He works, gets Lucas to school and does his best to be the adult. However, when their mother turns up again how long will they be able to carry on? The relationship between Jacob, played by Stephen O’Leary, and Lucas, played by Finian Duff Lennon, is excellently portrayed and is the highlight of the play. As their life together is forced to adapt to change the audience waits to see whether they will be able to hold on to each other. Despite everything that Jacob has done Lucas still holds out hope of one day having a family. He likes fairy tales with happy endings and more than anything would love his own. There are moments in the play that are touching and heart breaking; that provoked tears. To be able to make an audience both laugh and cry is quite a skill.
The New Theatre champions new writing and has given this play the chance to develop and respond to criticism. Happy Birthday Jacob seems to have benefitted massively from this experience and the team have turned out a well-formed theatre experience. There are few other places that give writers and theatre makers the chance to premiere new work. Plays such as this are a testament to the theatres ethos and show why it is important for new writers to be nurtured and given the chance to put their ideas of the stage. This is a very strong debut from playwright Michael Marshall.