Too often in my job, I find myself quoting Philip Larkin’s This Be The Verse, but it is so often appropriate; dramatists love to delve into the darker side of parent/child relationships.
Why wouldn’t they? We all have parents, and the family is rife with competition, emotion, tension, dependency and intrigue.
Though David Eldridge’s latest play, which is being premiered at the Almeida theatre, follows the descent into drug abuse of 20-something wannabe TV presenter Lucy and the climb to escape its clutches, familial relationships are once again at its heart.
When we meet Lisa Dillon’s angry, aggressive Lucy she is casually chasing the dragon – she is, she says, a “smoker of opium” – in the garden of her middle-class mum’s Islington house. As “Mummy” Barbara (Margot Leicester) quickly bows to Lucy’s requests for assistance in holding the foil, a pattern is set that speeds the lost girl’s spiral out of control.
Eldridge’s play is filled with patterns and repetition, both in action and in dialogue, cycles that, like a spinning plughole tornado, drag everyone who gets caught up in them further and further into the sewers. Constantly mothered Lucy loses all ability to make any decisions for herself, Barbara doesn’t recognise the damage she causes, while Abigail Cruttenden’s neglected sister Angela – who has her own, less apparent, problems – is increasingly marginalised.
The programme notes point out that “addiction is based on emotional isolation”, which is a problem as it becomes increasingly clear that the major protagonists of the play all have, to a greater or lesser extent, their own addiction issues. If they won’t connect emotionally, it leaves the audience experiencing two halves of a conversation that never really has a heart. It is distancing and, for a while, it is only through Keiran Bew’s vast array of male characters and Sophie Stanton’s patient care worker that any truth seeps into this co-dependent world where reality is kept at arm’s length.
It is when the shields come down and the characters’ cores are finally exposed that The Knot Of The Heart begins to tug at the audience.