It is rare for inanimate objects to take the lead role on stage. In Tanya Ronder’s Table a wooden table, which becomes a family heirloom passed down through six generations, is central to the action of the Best family – following them from Lichfield, Staffordshire, and all the way to East Africa.
Table starts in the late 1900s with Staffordshire carpenter, David Best, adoring his newly crafted table which he made to celebrate his marriage. It follows this generation through to his son, Finley leaving for the First World War. The opening scene is watched by Gideon, an unsettled figure, who is later identified as a modern-day character and the great-grandson of David.
Gideon, conceived after an unexpected encounter between a game hunter and a nun, becomes central to the journey of the table – leading it through song. Initially Gideon grows up in a nunnery in East Africa, before moving to a hippie commune in England with his mother, Sarah, as a young adult. Gideon then meets Michelle, who he marries and consequently abandons along with his son, Anthony.
This theme of an absent father and loss of children is explored through every generation, each holding consequences for the next.
The climactic scene of Michelle’s outpouring of anger towards Gideon after 30 years, appears as the culmination of each generation’s poor choices, leaving Gideon regretful and longing for the family he gave up on.
The table is symbolic of the Best’s family history. As Gideon tells the audience: each nock, mark and scratch represents a moment of their past. Originally made out of love, by the end the table bears the etches of initials, the scratches of nuns’ finger nails and even urine.
Phil Cheadle is impressive in his portrayal of the passionate Gideon, depicting himself from a toddler to a pensioner.
The New Vic Theatre is a fantastic venue for this regional premiere, which provides an intimate setting for the audience to become invested in the family history of the Bests.
Table is at the New Vic Theatre until 23 June 2018. Visit the website for details.