How do parents live up to the expectations of their children? They put us on such high pedestals that when the inevitable happens the consequences can have a lasting effect.
Paul Andrew Williams’ harrowing new play Ticking, which opened tonight at London’s Trafalgar Studios, puts one set of parents in the terrible position of witnessing possibly the last hour of their only son’s life.
But instead of the time being spent offering emotional support to the visibly trembling young man we’re witness to a maelstrom of anger, recrimination, guilt and regret.
It takes the full length of this 85-minute, intense and moving drama, for the layers of hate between father and son to be peeled back and for the audience to discover the shameful incident of so many years ago that sparked the estrangement between them.
Simon, the product of a middle class upbringing in what was probably a rural idyll in leafy Surrey or Sussex, is in a Chinese prison awaiting a firing squad for the murder of a prostitute. His lawyer is running out of options in pleading for clemency.
Parents Sylvia and Edward arrive to see their son possibly for the last time. She is in tears, emotion pouring out of her as you’d expect from a loving mother.
Edward, his affluent village’s former golden boy, seemingly plays with a straight bat. Wealthy, an ex-cricket club captain, he is distant and unemotional – but what on earth do you say when your son may be about to be shot?
This is a play about family and about every parent’s – and every son’s – worst nightmare.
It’s like that pub quiz question when you’re asked what you’d do or say if you only have five minutes left on earth.
This is Simon’s answer. He launches a full scale attack on his parents, their marriage, their morals and their lifestyle in the deluded belief that his blood is on their hands. He’s a very angry young man with a lot to get off his chest.
But I found myself siding with Anthony Head’s Edward when he blurts out a flustered retort to accusations levelled at him. His past behaviour may have been reprehensible but parents are fallible (ok, most of us are not that fallible).
A disappointed and disillusioned Simon blames a single incident for his fractured relationship with his father and his current situation.
He’s punishing his anguished mother for her naivety and sacrifice, his father for his arrogance and detachment and himself for his weakness.
Niamh Cusack makes a sympathetic mother. She spends a lot of the time sobbing, obviously. But, although she is put through an emotional wringer, caught in the crossfire between the two men, she still has some bold and cheeky lines that temporarily wrong-foot and embarrass her son.
Head, too, gives us a father we recognise. He’s uncomfortable, awkward, at a loss what to say that won’t sound crass, and finally, when pushed, prepared to stand his ground against the bile spat in his face by his raging, and, understandably scared, son.
Most of Ticking’s raw, emotional impact comes from Tom Hughes’ embittered Simon and he gives a powerful performance that delivers anger with fear in every line. The rage is palpable as he hurls his last meal – baked beans and Guinness with a contraband Twix if you’re asking – against the wall in another head-to-head with his father.
Thankfully the playwright, who also directs, has lightened the forceful, confrontational style of the drama with a massive dose of gallows humour. Simon is constantly wisecracking in a bid to wipe out thoughts of what is to come while Edward simply comes out with the most inappropriate responses.
A powerful, absorbing play with persuasive performances from Hughes, Cusack and Head.
It runs in Trafalgar Studio 2 until November 7.
Paul Andrew Williams delivers a powerful, absorbing play with persuasive performances from his leads. Ticking is uncompromising, intense and deeply moving.