Early Days is fronted by the subtly mischevious Simon Milloy as Granddad Kitchen, whose eventful and public life is a distant memory to all those around him. At just over an hour, the show provides a gorgeous evening of gentle laughs at the plights – real or imaginary – of Kitchen's family, who encircle him in his deterioration.
Kitchen was a right terror in his day, climbing the political ladder, making headlines for his debauchery but in the end, as inevitably as ever, growing old and a touch senile – but how much is what the audience find themselves asking. Kitchen's mind is clearly failing him though, at times pulling him into the past, repeatedly failing to provide a barrier between mind and mouth, developing wild conspiracy-driven theories or, at times, a mix of the three. His moments of clarity are fleeting, with his family's frustrations becoming more and more apparent as the play draws on, especially with his newly engaged granddaughter Gloria, played by Hannah Taylor Gordon, whose loving exterior soon crumbles to reveal a frustrated and, at some points, vicious young woman, breaking her grandfather's seemingly humble exterior.
Gordon plays Gloria in away that seems to contradict the innocence of her flowery dress – she portrays a woman who knows what she wants, even if it seems a bit odd that she wants the timid-but-wise poet Steven, played gently by the dapper Toby Manley. Manley's exchanges with Kitchen – who he meets for the first time in the play – are some of the most in-depth and reflective, a true opposite to the dismissive conversations he has with his family and even further from the quite confrontational digs Kitchen serves to Bristol, his hired companion. Max Gold takes Bristol's not-so-secret secrets in his stride and portrays great tension in the scenes where Kitchen rather unforgivingly asks him questions about the circumstances of the divorce – it is the first instance when we see Kitchen's ever-present self, allowing us a peek at his mischeviousness – the only lightness in the play. It is also the first time we start to understand how difficult it must be for this daughter, son in law and granddaughter to cope with his condition.
A new physician is thrown into the mix early on – and the charming Andrew Glen's doctor seems to be one in a long line of intelligent outsiders to understand the complexity of Kitchen's life at the time. Kitchen, played by the utterly marvellous and intiruging Simon Molloy, is coping with the inevitable ending to his life with as much grace as a naughty ex-minister of health can, and through his wit and his odd imagined conspiracies, it is the doctor and Steven who see his situation for the pity it is, rather than the challenge that his family endeavour it to be.
There are no one-liners and no cheap jokes in this script, and it is directed as such. Early Days is a bittersweet reflection, dashed with poignancy. Gorgeous to watch given the simplicity of the set and the cunning of the writing, as well as being just the right length. There were quiet moments that felt a bit too long, but it all added to the feeling that you were intruding on the personal final moments of a man lost in his own back garden. A pleasure to watch.