Tusk Tusk

Posted on: 30 April 2009 by Gareth Hargreaves

Laurence Green reviews Polly Stenham’s poignant and persuasive new work Tusk Tusk at the Jerwood Theatre.


Plays about dysfunctional families usually put the blame squarely on the children as the source of the problem but in Polly Stenham’s poignant and persuasive new work Tusk Tusk (Jerwood Theatre Upstairs Royal Court), directed by Jeremy Herrin, the situation is reversed.

A family of three children have been left alone in a new London flat.  Their father is long gone while their mentally ill mother has gone missing.  Eliot, the oldest at 15, wants to spend what money they have on alcohol to impress his new girlfriend, while 14-year-old Maggie thinks it should go on food, and the youngest Finn, seven, rushes about pretending to be Max, king of the Wild Things, a favourite character in children’s stories. 

All, however, are nearing the end of their tether as they await in vain for the return of their mother, whom, it is revealed, has been gone for more than a week.  But they know they are already on an ‘at risk’ list. 

If they report their mother’s absence they will be taken into care and separated.  The only solution is to stay together and fend for themselves in the hope their mother will eventually come back.

This tale of family ties as an uncertain future circles manages to be both hilarious and heartbreaking, with the limits of childhood’s comforting rituals, squabbles and deep affection for each other set against the danger and revelations of the real adult world.

Stenham’s ability to move in an instant from laughter to utter desolation marks her out as a dramatist of distinction, though I must confess I did not see her first play That Face, written when she was just 19, which recently transferred from the Royal Court to the West End.

Director Jeremy Herrin achieves astonishing performances from his talented young cast – Toby Regbo as Eliot, Bel Powley as Maggie, Finn Bennett as Finn and Georgia Groome as ‘the girlfriend’, all of whom succeed in bringing their characters vividly to life and making us empathise with their plight. 

In short this gripping play provides considerable food for thought.

By Laurence Green

Where: Jerwood Theatre

When: Plays until May 2nd.

Box Office: 020 7565 5000.

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