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Review - Don't Destroy Me

Arcola Theatre

Playing until: 3rd February 2024

Review (AD-PR Invite)

First premiered in 1956, Don’t Destroy Me tells the story of a Jewish family on the verge of a relationship breakdown. Sammy (Eddie Boyce), having not lived with father for a while, moves in with his father, Leo (Paul Rider) and his stepmother, Shani (Nathalie Barclay) in a more central part of London. Initially filled with optimism for the city life, Sammy soon discovers the cracks confined within the walls of his family, further fuelled by the damaged individuals in the neighbourhood.

When Sammy arrives at his father’s house, he forms an immediate connection with Suki (Nell Williams), the daughter of Mrs Pond (Alix Dunmore). Sammy and Suki could not be more unlike, while Sammy is innocent and unfamiliar with this new environment, Suki grew up witnessing dysfunctional families’ struggles around her. Suki is confident and uninhibited, further fuelling Sammy’s enthusiasm to his new home and eagerness to connect with his family. While the first quarter of the play sets an interesting premise and a solid foundation that allows each of the character to shine, this quickly crumbles as each character is motivated by their own self-driven narratives and barely take notice of each other’s’ stories, development and evolution. However, this element works wonderfully for the Mrs Pond character, who is deranged due to her past trauma and lives in her own fantasy world, constantly dancing the lines between reality and fiction.

Although it is evident that the Hasting’s script tries to convey an underlying trauma and dysfunction among the survivors of war and their children, the different characters constantly fight against each other, creating exaggerated friction within this small community. The connection between Suki and Sammy could be far more complementary to Sammy’s descent into depression and anger toward his father. Instead, Suki circled the peripheries of Sammy’s life and never dared to overstep the unspoken boundary between the two. In the absence of a more joined up approach, these characters remain as individuals that tell non-overlapping and jagged stories.

Elements of the story are left unexplored and the precise function of the Rabbi (Nicholas Day) is also left ambiguous. Until Sammy requested to see a Rabbi, there is no specific mention of any faith within the family. Rather than contributing to the resolution of any challenges that exist, the Rabbi appears to be there as a tool to fuel Leo’s discontent with his wife and son. For the entirety of the Rabbi’s time on stage, he is only able to offer questions and vague responses that don’t contribute toward the progression of the plot.

Given that the dysfunction within Sammy’s family is well portrayed within the first 30 minutes of the play, the reiteration of Mrs Pond’s delusions and Shani’s affair with George (Timothy O’Hara) do not feel justified. While the story explores an interesting premise and the standalone characters have much to offer, this play fails to bring them together to capitalise the strength of the individual components to deliver a focused message.


Playwright: Michael Hastings

Director: Tricia Thorns

Set Designer: Alex Marker

Producer: Graham Cowley

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