My Brothers Keeper? the play; by Nigel Williams
My Brother’s Keeper? the play by Nigel Williams returns to the London stage after 34 years. Directed by Craig Gilbert My Brother’s Keeper? tells the story of feuding brothers, family strife and living with stroke. Guest blogging for The Playground Theatre Craig Gilbert explains why My Brother’s Keeper? is a must see production.
Setting the scene; My Brother’s Keeper? the play
A hospital ward,1985, Mr Stone has suffered a stroke and lies in his bed in a semi lucid state. Mrs Stone, his wife is at her wits end as he is now refusing to eat. She has concocted a plan, to bring their two warring sons to his bedside……
Tony and Sam, born 10 years apart have chosen very different lives both have a shared past which needs to be reconciled but will their turbulent present allow them to do so.
This production is a conversation between the time it was written (1985) and now.
A conversation between 1985 and now
Leaving the text to exist in 1985 but allowing the production to speak to now; lets Nigel’s writing make some excellent points about the myth of societal progress.
The dominant view of our society (at least since the Second World War) is that we have been making constant, incremental progress towards a better, more equal world. My Brother’s Keeper? offers an incisive critique of this idea.
For example: The NHS, despite the investment of the mid 90’s, is once again in a perilous state. Now as then, hospitals are understaffed and demand is too high and once again the Conservative government’s response is to make cuts and attempt evermore privatisation.
Another example is the political language used in the play. Tony and Sam’s differing ideological positions and the arguments they have about politics are exactly the same as the conversation that is happening today.
A beautiful counterpoint to these elements of societal stasis which the play highlights is the progress of Art. The fact that Mr Stone is an artist whose practice has become outdated is, for a contemporary audience, a terrific comment on the notion that art is constantly evolving despite addressing a society that doesn’t really change.
A liminal space that exists between then and now highlights the potent analogies between contemporary society and the milieu of the play.
And of course, the meat of the play: Family conflict, is timeless, we understand it whether it takes place in 1719, 1985 or 2017.
And what a terrific exploration of family conflict this play is. It reads to me like an English version of something by Ingmar Bergman or Thomas Winterberg. It is brutal; truly insightful excavation of how those moments which can seem inconsequential to one person can be cataclysmic for another and how repression of feelings from long ago can haunt and poison our lives. Ultimately it demonstrates how easy it is to do violence to those we purport to love, even if we do so unwittingly.
It makes perfect sense to me that this family showdown would take place in a hospital; Hospitals are full of people waiting, and that waiting can become (as it does in this play) existential.
Also in hospitals it can feel like there is no escape, not just for the sick but those visiting them also. When you see someone you love very ill in hospital ‘visiting’ really doesn’t feel like an adequate word. It can, very selfishly, feel like you will never leave, like you are trapped by the inevitable.
The Stones must face up to their demons because they’re all trapped, they have no choice but to confront each other because the guilt of leaving their dying father’s bedside would be unbearable.
In praise of Nigel Williams
Nigel Williams is an Academy Award, Emmy and Golden Globe winner for TV drama Skallagrigg and Elizabeth I.
Nigel began life as a novelist and moved towards television, playwright, author and script writer. He has written over sixteen novels including the bestselling Wimbledon Poisoner.
He won the Somerset Maugham award for his first novel My Life Closed Twice.
Plays include Class Enemy, Sugar and Spice, Harry and Me (Royal Court). MyFace and Line’em (National Theatre) and Lord of the Flies and Country Dancing (Royal Shakespeare Company)
His latest TV series Catherine The Great due to be released soon; and stars Helen Mirren.
How to book My Brother’s Keeper?
My Brother’s Keeper? is to be directed by Craig Gilbert and produced by Tinted Frame Productions; it will run from 26 February to 23 March 2019.