We Just Keep Going, Hen & Chickens Theatre

Everyone’s family is messed up, with mother/daughter relationships an infamous source of tension. At the start of We Just Keep Going, Ruby (Elle van Knoll) and her mum Susan (Hilary Tones) recently relocated from San Francisco to England after Susan split from Ruby’s dad for hinted-at sinister reasons. As time passes, Ruby grows up and both ladies are in the dating scene, leading to even more conflict between the two. Though the subject matter is rather serious, the delivery most certainly isn’t. Elle van Knoll’s script is full of hilarious one-liners and situation comedy; director Helen Oakleigh intuitively adds pace and timing. The scenes are excellent stand-alone pieces and the company has good chemistry, though the performances are occasionally too heightened and the transitions are lengthy, particularly considering the scenes are numerous and short. Despite these issues, this is a great effort from new company VK Unlimited.

This is van Knoll’s debut as a playwright; as well as playing the lead role and producing. For a debut play, the script is very good. Van Knoll has a great sense for character comedy and narrative arc; her choice of episodic structure is an effective storytelling device. Ruby and Susan’s conflicting history and personal issues show some depth, though there is more of a focus on Ruby rather than Susan. Ruby’s character has a clearly defined journey that van Knoll skillfully captures, but similar character development in Susan wouldn’t go amiss as she recovers from her divorce and finds her independence as her daughter grows up. The male characters, Michael (Scott Westwood) and David (Sam Parks), get less attention though their story of estrangement is just as interesting as the women’s troubled family history. The interval wasn’t particularly needed at the current length, but with further development and character exploration, We Just Keep Going could become a full-length play.

The performances from the company of four are wonderfully funny, but don’t always feel genuine in moments of high conflict and revelation. Westwood’s and Parks’ performances feel uncommitted at times, understandingly so as they are less developed and have less stage time than the women. When Michael (Ruby’s boyfriend) and Sam (Susan’s boyfriend) eventually clash, their fight, choreographed by Andrei Zayats, feels restrained and staged rather than convincingly violent. Tones has a lovely, warm quality that is a great contrast to van Knoll’s spikiness. Westwood and Parks have a similar dynamic that is an effective mirror.

Though the comedy is the main feature of this play, it has potential for a darker focus as well, what with the themes of abuse and abandonment that feature. For a first production, We Just Keep Going is good, but a more balanced use of comedy and characterization would make this an excellent play with meaty roles that are a treat for any actor to play.

The Play’s The Thing UK is an independent theatre criticism website maintained voluntarily. Whilst donations are never expected, they are hugely appreciated and will enable more time to be spent reviewing theatre productions of all sizes. Click here to make a donation with PalPal.