Sunday, December 16, 2007

The Khomenko Family Chronicles

The Good Family is followed by the Khomenko Family Chronicles, a shorter but much more accomplished play about a much less lucky family, the Khomenkos from Ukraine, where Ma and Pa gather round the bed of their nine-year-old son Lyosha, who is attached to a drip and totally bald, due to receiving what is clearly cancer treatment.

And no wonder the poor fellow’s ill - we learn he was conceived on the day the Chernobyl reactor imploded, a story they recount with warmth to their son (a fantastically assured performance from young Lewis Lempereur-Palmer) with accents that make this family sound more Uxbridge Road than Ukraine - it’s a relief not to have the kind cod Anglo Russian we are sometimes served up. Particularly engaging was Samantha Spiro’s mother, heavily pregnant (with a girl) and trying her best to coax as much health into her son as possible with her foul-looking home-made chicken soup. She also tries to bring out the best from a husband prone to committing adultery and an apparent ability to be nice only after a massive slug of lager.

When a child is dying it’s no surprise that anger also bubbles under the surface, but what is most heart breaking is the way all three family members try and enjoy the romance of Chernobyl - yes, you read right - and even of the events of September 11 2001 (when Ma reunited with Pa). “Climb on a plane and in eight hours you’re in New York… wonderful,” says Ma while Dad adds: “Chernobyl? Even easier. It’s close by. They run day trips down there.”

It’s not just the cancer which is beyond these poor people’s control - bigger events shape their destiny and I, for one, found the realisation very moving.

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