Review: This Is My Family, by Tim Firth, New Wolsey Theatre, until November 15

Evelyn Hoskins in This is My Family by Tim Firth which is at the New Wolsey Theatre, Ipswich

Evelyn Hoskins in This is My Family by Tim Firth which is at the New Wolsey Theatre, Ipswich - Credit: Archant

They say that they don’t write ‘em like they used to. That’s true. Modern musicals are different. Some are better. This Is My Family is a brilliant example of just such a show.

Marjorie Yates, Clare Burt and Evelyn Hoskins in This is My Family by Tim Firth which is at the New

Marjorie Yates, Clare Burt and Evelyn Hoskins in This is My Family by Tim Firth which is at the New Wolsey Theatre, Ipswich - Credit: Archant

Penned by Tim Firth, author of Neville’s Island, Calendar Girls and Our House, is an engaging, truthful look at family life. What makes this such a remarkable piece of theatre is that the family captured in this bittersweet portrait is not remarkable – they are every family. They are us.

Firth is not interested in caricatures or clichéd situations. Each member of the family is lovingly and carefully drawn and the scenes capture real scenes from daily life that we can all identify with.

Tim Firth is a master observational comedy and now he has created an observational musical. What makes this such a genuine treat is the way that he has woven the music into the narrative so it feels like a play but is virtually sung through.

Dialogue and lyrics overlap, music rises and falls as it changes from dominant melody to subtle underscore. The entire thing emerges as a glorious musical tapestry.

Rachel Lumberg and Marjorie Yates in This is My Family by Tim Firth which is at the New Wolsey Theat

Rachel Lumberg and Marjorie Yates in This is My Family by Tim Firth which is at the New Wolsey Theatre, Ipswich - Credit: Archant


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Director Daniel Evans has done a cracking job at keeping the action moving and keeping the focus on the relationships pin-sharp. But equally importantly he doesn’t miss an opportunity to extract as many laughs as he can from the trials and tribulations of our alter-egos up on stage.

He is helped in this by a first-rate cast who all deliver, truthful performances, never once straying into the over-the-top world of the Broadway showstopper. Instead we get a quieter, more insightful, certainly more intimate world which we can empathise with.

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Although this is very much an ensemble show, our focus falls on the wonderfully charismatic Evelyn Hoskins, who plays the 13 year old Nicky. We see this family through her eyes.

She starts the show alone on stage singing that telling opening line: “This Is My Family…” Nicky has just won a writing competition in which she had to describe her family. Her reward? An all-expenses paid family holiday.

Clare Burt in This is My Family by Tim Firth which is at the New Wolsey Theatre, Ipswich

Clare Burt in This is My Family by Tim Firth which is at the New Wolsey Theatre, Ipswich - Credit: Archant

Does she want to go on safari, visit the Far East, lay on a sun-soaked beach? No she and her folks head off for a soggy camping holiday in the New Forest.

That’s all you need to know. The show is best experienced without any knowledge of what is coming next. Like life it should unfold before you. Hoskins co-stars are all equally real. Bill Champion plays Steve the Dad, Clare Burt is Yvonne the Mum, a loving pair who are starting to get worn down by the grind of daily life and are, perhaps, starting to take each other for granted, Rachel Lumberg is Yvonne’s sister Sian, who, instead of opting for long-term monogamy, runs through a series of relationships which look exciting on the surface but are obviously not as fulfilling as she would have you believe, Terence Keeley plays Matt, Nicky’s uncommunicative older brother, he has one of the most moving journeys of all, and Marjorie Yates is touching as Steve’s Mum May, who is starting to become a little forgetful.

This is a musical that feels like a play. It’s fiction that echoes real-life and it translates into one of the most enjoyable, most entertaining evening’s you will have at the theatre. This is my show of the year.

Andrew Clarke

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