THEATRE / Too sweet a pill: Paul Taylor reviews The Weekend, Michael Palin's new play at the Strand
Thursday 05 May 1994
Barricaded behind his Daily Telegraph, Richard Wilson as Stephen, the father, wastes no time before launching into a relentless reprise of the garrulous curmudgeon routine that has made him a household name. His wife Virginia (Angela Thorne) drifts about with an abstracted, stoical air and, though you know that the problem is a lack of communication, you feel that a sudden attack of mutism on Stephen's part might do this marriage no end of good.
A sub-sub-Ayckbournian exercise - not helped by the over-emphatic, reppy atmosphere of Robin Lefevre's production - Palin's play steers a predictable course through the perils of a weekend visit from the couple's daughter and family. To keep the laugh-level mechanically high, this last group includes an incontinent dog and a husband who is to the motorways of England what the Speaking Clock is to time. What is missing is the crucial Ayckbourn knack of revealing the most painful truths about family dysfunction precisely when the comedy is at its most uproarious.
Instead, the play keeps taking the easy way out. For example, Stephen's eventual revelations - concerning the secret failure and humiliation that have turned him into this cantankerous tyrant - emerge not in the rough-and-tumble of the weekend as a whole, but over a cup of tea with his wife in the middle of the night.
This scene has too much the air of a safely cordoned-off textbook explanation to be moving, despite the fine performances. The characters don't develop, they just suddenly come clean. It's the sort of play that requires you to believe Stephen has a serious drink problem, while treating it in a reassuringly upbeat manner. Some of the gags related to this are good - as when the wife, using the eyes in the back of her head, says 'Having another one?' to her husband who has sneaked over to the drinks cabinet. 'No, just getting the bottle out to check the spelling on the label,' comes the sarky reply.
It gets a big laugh, but you get the impression that the script's jokiness, far from heightening a sense of the underlying pain, is there to render it palatable. And it's that that sets your teeth on edge.
At the Strand Theatre, WC2 (booking: 071-930 8800)
Listen to his collaboration with Naughty Boymusic
Film review Michael Glatze biopic isn't about a self-hating gay man gone straight
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Tidal launch: The most pretentious lines from Alicia Keys' valedictory speech
- 2 Trevor Noah: Jon Stewart's replacement faces online criticism over 'anti-Semitic' tweets
- 3 I might be an MP, but that doesn't stop me fighting sexism with my breasts
- 4 Martha Stewart accuses Snoop Dogg of 'smoking for four hours' during Justin Bieber Roast
- 5 Gamers confess the worst things they've done in The Sims
Tidal launch: The most pretentious lines from Alicia Keys' valedictory speech
Tidal: Jay Z's Spotify rival criticised for making wealthy artists even richer
Top Gear live to go ahead: Jeremy Clarkson to join Richard Hammond and James May... just don't call it Top Gear
Fifty Shades of Grey movie shows first sex scene 'after 40 minutes'
Menstruation-themed photo series artist 'censored by Instagram' says images are to demystify taboos around periods
Ukip supporters are 55 or older, white and socially conservative, finds British Social Attitudes Report
Street preacher quoting from the Bible fined for calling homosexuality an 'abomination'
Woman filmed launching racist tirade against men on the Tube for speaking in 'own lingo'
Katie Hopkins attacked me on Twitter — so I reported her to the police for inciting racial hatred
The West has it totally wrong on Lee Kuan Yew
David Cameron calls Labour 'hopeless, sneering socialists' while announcing 7-day NHS plans