It was George’s tartan mules that pleased me first. No funky Shedshoes in a chilli print for our George; no, he wears his old slippers in the garden. For a wee while, I was comfortable that Reunion would turn out equally wholesome and familiar; but then it doesn’t. Not at all. And I felt tears pricking my eyes.
Often a well-performed short play packs quite an emotional punch, but rarely from the small back garden of an elderly couple. There’s good soil on stage, and a small pond, and a kettle barbecue. And there’s George, who’s probably well past seventy, and his wife, Jude, who is in her late fifties. They have been together a long time, ever since a handsome, strapping, bloke swept sixteen year old Jude off her feet. Her parents didn’t like it one bit, but that’s love for you. Their daughter, Jen, and their nine year old grand-daughter, Sarah, are driving up from south London and are expected shortly. There is just the one pressing problem: the pussy cat has died and Sarah does so love that cat.
George and Jude do all the talking and – as is often the case with long-married couples – it’s a bit of a sparring match. George won’t stop his blathering or else is ‘fannying around in the garden’. Jude fusses about the place, getting increasingly anxious as she waits for the sound of Jen’s car pulling up out front.
Neil Smith’s script grows on you. Its language is entirely natural but it’s insidious too. At one point I think I heard mention of “[now] here we are, stuck outside the M25”, but really that’s not too bad and you might think there are worse things in life. Indeed there are… and so a domestic tragedy puts down its roots in fond reminiscence and little irritations.
Actors Luke Barton and Jill Rutland give performances of considerable depth and feeling, despite being way, way, younger than their characters. Barton is the blunt northerner whose speech can be hard, but whose vowels land tenderly. Rutland is the headstrong girl who marries her man and who then, one awful day, has to find the strength to somehow carry on.
It’s not quite right, despite those worn slippers, to see Reunion as realistic drama. It is a ‘Living Record’ production whose strapline is ‘vivid, dangerous, dreamlike’ – and that captures it well enough. However, I’d prefer a gardening metaphor, because I’m with George here. This play composts you. You’ll crumble but be better for it.