The play is however, unlike the soup, best served warm, which in this performance, it certainly was. The dysfunctional family dynamics between the all-at-sea, stuttering son and his recently widowed, emotionally stunted mother, exacerbated by the re-emergence of a long since jilted girlfriend and the revelation of a long term lover, are played out comically and poignantly by turns. Whilst for the most part this is a light hearted, at times farcical portrayal of deeply flawed, but essentially sympathetic characters, there are moments, particularly towards the end, when those human frailties are treated with a quiet dignity, which seemed more real, quite moving, and more rewarding to watch.
Mercy, the dowdy friend, utters endless inanities, commits the most deplorable of gaffs, and induces exasperation and pity from characters and audience alike. Then there’s the gardener, who, for the most part occupies the physical space around the edges of the stage, offering softly spoken words of seemingly little importance, until his full significance emerges in the revelatory closing scene. His is the only unaffected character, and for that reason, is the most likeable of all.
It may be rather dismissive to suggest that Caroline Jones’s script does not inspire more contemplation or merit further analysis. I was aware that it was intelligent and considered and that the jokes and puns, the clever plays on words and allusions were all there, carefully placed to be best appreciated. However, the actual delivery of those witty jokes let them down ever so slightly at times. I enjoyed all the performances, and found that the characters, whilst exaggerated, remained just about believable, but that precision art of comic timing was a fraction of a second off the mark at certain points when I felt there was more of a laugh due.
But maybe raising a gentle and knowing chuckle was always the intention, rather than eliciting guffaws and rolling in the aisles. The themes after all, are not naturally mirth inducing: Death, grief, the march of time, lost love, infidelity – not to mention theoretical physics, horticulture and entomology. Perhaps then it is a tribute to the writer, director and actors that such weighty topics, when treated humorously but not mockingly and aired on a stage dressed pleasantly as a summer garden, complete with a real lawn and illuminated beehive, result in an enjoyable, amusing, but unchallenging experience.