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Table' at The Shed

Table is a small show that feels big. Numerous vignettes knit together on a large canvas to create a dense and enthralling family drama that takes the audience through six generations of the Best family. From humble beginnings at the turn of the 20th century all the way through to the present day - we see characters’ egos grow, watch their relationships bear fruit, witness lies consume their social groups and observe them hopelessly try to reconnect after years apart. 

Writer Tanya Ronder doesn’t explore the narratives chronologically, she lets the emotional structure direct the drama - flitting around between time frames and locations, revealing true motives or eventual circumstance at the opportune moment and allowing intrigue to swell without being overwhelming and plot turns to develop without feeling disjointed or misplaced. One is blessed with an omniscience which the Best’s desperately seek and thus becomes fully absorbed in the family’s plights. Ronder displays how emotional turmoil rules her character’s lives and then rolls back the clock to reveal when the seed of insecurity that has led to their vices was planted within them. The audience are always one step ahead of the game and know the characters better than they know themselves, forcing them to empathise with the very real people on stage and their very real problems and promoting an emotional connection between player and participant rarely achieved with such dignity in theatre. 

At the centre of the drama at all times, both physically and metaphorically, is the Best’s family table. Director Rufus Norris cleverly works around the fact that a table is, at the best of times, an unwieldy, heavy nuisance not designed for swift movement and sets it steady as a foundation for the characters’ dramas. It bears the brunt of their tumultuous lives and shows the scars that the character’s hold within them from decades of strife and serves as a mooring point for the audience. It is burnt, scratched, disfigured, mutilated and stained and remains throughout as the only certainty within the nexus - a forever faithful, detached, stoic emotional crutch used by the entire family and the audience alike. It is a loving inanimate object that has observed so much and judged so little and Norris and Ronder leave the impression that it will go on to see much more as the Best’s continue to struggle through time. 

Despite the vastness, Table feels personal and this is made all the more pertinent by the unique space in which it is performed. The Shed, which is sadly only a temporary venue, is certainly going to become a successful and must-go-to site for theatre lovers across London over the next 12 months. It’s cosy, up-close Thrust stage may result in you having to wipe actor spittle off your cheek, but this is a small price to pay for the intimacy achieved.

Review by Andy Currums, guest blogger

Table is running until 18 May. To book tickets visit The Shed website.

About the author: 

Andy Currums has worked as a freelance theatre and arts critic in London for a number of years. He spent last August at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe writing for BroadwayBaby - the biggest fringe publication of 2013. He is a founding member of award-winning theatre company By Moonlight Theatre and Resident Writer for arts charity Creative Youth. This year, in conjunction with the charity, he is running a series of workshops in critical arts reviewing for young people with the students forming the press team for the International Youth Arts Festival in July. In his spare time he writes original play scripts and produces them at local theatre and arts festivals.