Ruth Rich is surrounded by boxes as she packs up the family home. The sale to the Tetleys is all lined up, and with Ruth’s eldest daughter Laura and her husband Ned all set to buy the Tetleys’ house in turn, what could go wrong? But the rain begins to fall, and complications as well as water levels begin to rise.
Updownsizing is the sixth in Ginny Davis’ series of one-woman plays about Ruth Rich and her family. Though I hadn’t seen any of the previous instalments, I felt at no disadvantage: Davis is adept at setting the scene. This time, the children have all grown up and flown the nest, and it is time to downsize. Of course it doesn’t work out that way as various children, partners, and other hangers-on land back at the family home, expecting to be fed.
The characters are nicely played, though they veer towards stereotype: all are very much seen through a mother’s eyes, with her husband and son in particular appearing to be generic domestically useless males. I particularly like Ruth’s relationship with her mother. We learn early on that she has died, but she is still there as a voice in Ruth’s head, her lovely Welsh tones providing a more conservative counterpoint to Ruth’s musings. Her use of phrases like “living in sin” to refer to the unmarried Laura allows some of Ruth’s lingering fears to surface, and offers some fun with middle child Ellie’s choice of bedroom companion and various pregnancy scares.
This internal dialogue sets down a moral baseline for the play; while Ruth may be more socially liberal, her more traditional upbringing is in view. There is some gentle satire about Ruth’s presumptions and family life, but in general this is an affectionate family portrait, and the obvious wealth of the family seems taken for granted rather than pointed up.
The humour is instead directed at the newcomers, the Tetleys, who want to convert Ruth’s beloved kitchen into a gym. Bearing all that in mind, the description of the Tetleys as ”an odd couple, she tall and black, he short and white” was unfortunate, and had a bit of a tin ear about it in a play that was otherwise entirely white, straight and middle class.
Ginny Davis is a consummate performer - and while it’s challenging to build sympathy for a character who can sell a house for £600k, it is clear that she understands the milieu that she writes about. An appreciative audience went away very happy.