For many theatrical productions, the key draw is its cast. That’s certainly the case for Hatched 'n' Dispatched, with performances from Coronation Street’s Wendi Peters & Vicky Binns, as well as popstar and X Factor graduate Diana Vickers.
It’s fitting that soapstars lead the cast. Written by Gemma Page and Michael Kirk, this is kitchen-sink drama that’s brimming with problematic characters, as a not-so-happy family is brought together when they host both a christening and funeral on the same day (hence the title). The domesticated Madeleine and her infantile husband Oliver are struggling to have a baby. The ditzy, tottering Susan, meanwhile, is pregnant and believes the father may be a black gentleman. The aggressive Kenny is molly coddled by his overbearing mother Dorothy, putting stress on his marriage to the headstrong, flirtatious Corinne. And Dorothy’s husband Teddy has been having an affair with her sister Irene, whose husband Arthur has just died. Keeping up? It certainly gives Corrie a run for its money.
Set in 1950s Derbyshire, Hatched 'n' Dispatched has been created through Kirk’s observations of living up north (of Watford) and provides a snapshot of life at the time. Its themes revolve predominantly around a clash of generations. At the head of the family is dominant matriarch Dorothy: patronising and manipulative. Part doting mother and part strict school teacher, she favours the harsh masculinity of her son (who in turn despises his father in a clear Oedipal relationship) over the meek domesticated femininity of her daughter. In her values she is a relic of war time Britain – a woman taking control, whilst remaining uptight and submissive to the constraints of patriarchal society. By contrast, the younger females openly discuss sex (with a black man no less), pregnancy and their favourite popstars like giggling teenagers. The men are largely side-lined – it’s the women who head up this family. And you wouldn’t want to mess with them.
Hatched 'n' Dispatched, then, is very much a period piece that captures the essence of post-war Britain. As a narrative, though, it plays out exactly as you’d expect. The familial structure and characterisation is typical of this form of kitchen sink drama, with a lead matriarchal figure who is eventually overruled by the younger generation – see Tracy Letts’ August: Osage County (and the film adaptation with Meryl Streep) for a recent example of how this plays out. Yet by setting the play in the 50s, it feels archaic, old fashioned, staid. The second half takes a sudden dark turn as events unravel, and it’s here the play reaches an appropriate climax whilst settling into a familiar formula. It’s certainly well written, with authentic dialogue, high tension and layers of dramatic irony, and it’s frequently amusing, although much of its bawdy humour and most dramatic moments come off a little cheap (the sweary climax particularly).
Again, it’s fitting that soapstars lead the cast. Peters’ Dorothy is a truly tyrannical figure, the sort of character you love and loathe in equal measure. She delivers a powerhouse performance that’s frustrating to watch for all the right reasons – imagine having Imelda Staunton’s Dolores Umbridge as your mother and you get the idea. Matthew Fraser Holland’s Oliver proves to be her highly amusing foil, whilst Danielle Flett’s Corrine is an easy character to root for, and Vickers offers a likeable performance as Susan. Hatched 'n' Dispatched may be formulaic, but it still provides a satisfying and enjoyable drama that plays on our voyeuristic tendencies – you can’t help but watch.
Watch: Hatched N Dispatched runs at the Park Theatre until 26th September.
Photo: Philip Lyons