Directed by Tim Newns
Pros: A rarely performed play that carries itself with gentle humour and poise.
Cons: The play doesn’t quite pull the heart strings as you would expect about from such a subject.
Our Verdict: A poignant tribute to a celebrated novelist and playwright David Storey.
As the audience sat down, there was an immediate sense of calm and stillness in this small, intimate theatre. The mellow murmuring of the sea permeated the music played to the audience and the ground was lit up by orange light, as if to hint at the main character’s autumnal years. So began the evening’s performance of Early Days.
The play opens with Sir Richard Kitchen – a retired MP of some repute – addressing the audience, and sharing his thoughts about the sea of his childhood, plus memories in general. Bristol, an employee of Kitchen’s son-in-law Benson, tries to strike up a conversation with Kitchen, but he is suspicious of him and half-jokingly alludes to Benson as a “spy”. Throughout the course of the play we find out that Kitchen is staying at the domicile of his daughter, her husband and his granddaughter. However, all the family, to various degrees, are wary of Kitchen – for acts of unreasonable behaviour in the present and in the past.
As the play progresses, it is clear that there is a disparity between Kitchen’s recollection of the past and the family’s – something Kitchen himself states at the beginning of the play. Kitchen’s core of loneliness is something he shares with Simon Gray’s St. John Quartermaine, but while that character is hopeless but pleasantly agreeable, Kitchen predilection for doing whatever he wants continually lands him in trouble with his family and the local village.
In some ways, Kitchen is a contemporary King Lear – angry about the past and his family, but oblivious to his own shortcomings. However, Early Days isn’t the sort of play where there is a succession of tempestuous arguments. Rather, the tensions bubble beneath the surface and are only vocalised when family members feel they are pushed into a corner. Even though he is flawed, Kitchen has redeeming qualities and like the author David Storey, isn’t solely concerned with money.
At one point in the play, Kitchen states that he tries to communicate with his family, but nobody can comprehend him and he’s kept emotionally at arm’s length – not unlike the family of Gregor Samsa in Kafka’s The Metamorphosis. His shifting psychological state renders him a stranger to himself and others.
While it may not be branded as such, Early Days is a leisurely ‘detective’ story that leaves clues to the source of Kitchen’s alienation and the demise of his political career. The familial ambivalence stretches to Mathilda – Kitchen’s daughter – who is supposed to help him with his memoirs. However, she doesn’t want to hear him talk about her mother or help him anymore with writing. Similarly, his granddaughter Gloria does not like her fiancée reading out poems, as it is too much like the public speeches her grandfather used to make. For the female members of the household, Kitchen’s praises of his departed wife ring hollow in light of their knowledge of how he treated her.
Simon Molloy who plays Kitchen, weaves through the different layers of Kitchen’s personality, showing a man of resolution and ideas, as well as a man with feet of clay. The rest of the cast acquit themselves admirably, conveying a long-standing weariness at Kitchen’s antics. My one observation would be that in spite of the dramatic tension you would expect from familial disagreements, there was little here that made a lasting emotional impact.
Bearing in mind the themes of the play, I wondered if Simon & Garfunkel’s song Bookends would make an appearance at some point. I was half-right – a Gregorian Chant version of another song they’re associated with (Scarborough Fair) – cleverly alludes to Storey’s home county of Yorkshire (as well as, of course, to nostalgia and loss).
Please feel free to leave your thoughts and opinions in the comments section below!
Early Days runs at Finborough Theatre until 2nd July 2013.
Box Office: 0844 847 1652 or book online at