Empty Beds tells the story of three sisters as they take a long train journey to meet their brother Michael on his birthday. Normally a happy occurrence, but unfortunately on this occasion this not the case. The reason their brother lives so far away is due to the lack of hospital beds. We never meet Michael, but learn that he lives with mental health problems and lack of help and support means he needs to find care far away from his family. Throughout the train journey we learn more about the sister’s and Michael’s condition and how difficult life has been for him.
The focus of the story is the three sisters, Catherine (Julia Cranney, who also wrote the script), Emily (Carys Wright) and Jo (Matilda Tucker) and their relationship with one another. They each deal with Michael’s problems in different ways and like typical sisters, they are close, but they also have their differences. The establishing of the sisterly relationship takes up the bulk of the play. Initially this is touching and showcases the talents of the three performers. However, this character building eventually aggravates as it gets in the way of the story. There is an important and vital message here, but it is lost as we don’t get to experience it soon enough. Instead we hear the sisters squabble about crisps, punctuality, wine and periods. It help sets the tone of the production, but does not help the narrative.
Empty Beds ends with an ambiguous and abrupt conclusion while we are left to contemplate the fate of Michael. The play falls way short of its hour running time and the fact that it took a while to get going, means the performance is all too brief and a little frustrating. The three performers are entertaining and do a great job of showing the mayhem and tenderness that a family can have, but less character building and more drama would have presented a more engaging drama.