Ortonesque in its conceit, Wendy MacLeod’s The House of Yes complements the other satirical black comedies that Matthew Parker has directed at the Hope Theatre during his tenure at the venue. Set 36 years ago during Thanksgiving in Washington D.C., we find ourselves at an ‘unusual’ family reunion. One could argue that all families are ‘dysfunctional’ to some degree, but in the case of the Pascals, it isn’t a matter of relativity but of fact.
Marty (Fergus Leathem) arrives at the Pascal residence with Lesly (Kaya Bucholc), his fiancée during a hurricane. But far from it being a congenial affair, Marty finds his family behaving ‘strangely’ – even by their own standards. The reason? At the core of this is Marty’s abnormally close relationship with his twin sister ‘Jackie-O’ (Colette Eaton) who living up to her namesake, dresses glamorously.
However, Jackie-O has never behaved ‘conventionally’ and with Marty – the only person she’s ever really cared about – living away from her, her ‘health’ has taken a turn for the worst. This had led to younger brother Anthony (Bart Lambert) dropping out of college to take care of her. Jackie is good spirits at the thought of Marty’s homecoming, but she hasn’t considered what the nature of her brother’s visit entails…
As someone who is oblivious to her fiancé’s family history, Bucholc’s character strikes the balance between devotion and alarm, as she realises how little she really knows about Marty’s ‘previous relationships’.
Beyond the farcical elements, the play touches on the ‘snobbery’ between the monied elite and those, like Lesly, who hails from a working class background. The fact that this ‘mingling’ of the classes is seen as more of an objectionable thing to Mrs Pascal (Gill King) than the twins’ abnormally close relationship speaks volumes about the respective values and priorities. Mirroring the practices of the Ancient Egyptians to keep bloodlines ‘pure’, the acknowledgment of the Pascal’s ‘state of affairs’ by Marty’s mother is unequivocal proof of her acceptance on the matter.
Having played the ‘devilish’ Martin in Parker’s production of Brimstone and Treacle, Leatham’s Marty in this play is a very different sort of person – though he exudes an air of being seasoned at decompartmentalising his life… Eaton’s Jackie-O is arguably the stand-out performance of the show – self-assured and charismatic, but undoubtedly ‘unorthodox’ and of questionable ‘soundness of mind’. Squaring the circle, the twins’ socially-awkward brother is ‘Tyrion’ to their ‘Jamie and Cersei Lannister’ – ‘tolertated’ at best, but outside the ‘inner circle’ of trust and secrets. His character arc reveals the double-edged nature that knowledge brings.
Asides from Jackie-O’s moniker, the allusions of the Pascal family to the Kennedy political dynasty runs deep. Known as the ‘Camelot’ administration during John F. Kennedy’s tenure as president, we now know with hindsight of the clandestine affairs and secrets that saturated his ‘private life’. But far from being a romantic or idealistic allusion, the ‘Camelot’ meta- comparisons (much like Hans Christian Anderson’s mermaid who walked in agony with her new-found legs) obliquely reveals a much darker side. Often forgotten about, the Arthurian myth concludes when a tryst transpires between Arthur and his sister Morgan Le Fay. Far from being a private matter, everything and everyone proceeds to bear the brunt of the consequences…
As Parker’s swansong as Artistic Director at the Hope Theatre, The House of Yes – like many of the plays he’s directed there – isn’t afraid to show the underbelly of ‘respectable society’ and highlights the compromises society makes with itself regarding what’s best for the individual versus ‘the greater good’.
© Michael Davis 2019
The House of Yes runs at the Hope Theatre, London until 26th October.