Theatre: A family at war
Friday 26 March 1999
AH, ENGLAND in the early Fifties - bliss in that dawn to be alive it was not. Take Celia Smithers, stuck on a peevish little island off Portsmouth. One is, of course, desperate to get to London - or is one, given that one takes one's post-war female frustrations everywhere? And dependent, for the move, on one's 12-year-old son getting a scholarship to Westminster. Meanwhile, there is tennis and gin and more gin and dealing with one's trying inferiors and being a boon to one's husband and trying to forget the less constricted world the war had opened up to women.
You might think it would be hard to avoid patronising such a character, particularly when half the stage is occupied by the home of a couple of refugee Austrians, a mother and her middle-aged son, sitting targets for unthinking, British snobbery. But one of the strengths of The Late Middle Classes - Simon Gray's deeply satisfying, funny-sad and perceptive new play - is its refusal to set up any crude oppositions. The two homes, culturally so different and positioned cheek-by-jowl in Harold Pinter's pitch-perfect production, are in fact subtly distorted images of each other.
We begin to see this through the experience of the young English son, Holliday (enchantingly played by Sam Bedi), a gifted pubescent boy who goes to the foreigners' house for piano lessons with the quizzical amateur composer and pianist, Thomas (excellent Nicholas Woodeson).
Though the play's identity has the unmistakable stamp of Simon Gray and its stage craft is reminiscent of Rattigan at his finest, the author that this play kept reminding me of is Dickens. It has his acute understanding of the pressures adults put on children, of the emotional blackmail, and the way we manoeuvre the young into betraying themselves by betraying others.
In the one house, Harriet Walter's superb Celia plays silly games of pretending to be dead, to extort reassurances of love from her son: in the other, the childish games are tinged with platonic paedophilia. But just as with the clashes of culture, Gray declines to make an easy moral division. The eventual ugly show-down between the angry father (James Fleet) and the frightened refugees is not Britain's finest hour, but the insecurity that fuels his wrath is beautifully developed from the uncertainties Gray has dramatised in the English couple's marriage.
There will be no justice if this play does not transfer, but since the West End is not known for justice, lovers of emotionally literate theatre should head now for Watford.
Booking: 01923 225671
Maisie Williams single-handedly rises to the challengeTV
Academy criticised after no non-white actors nominated
tvAn expose of hooliganism masquerading as an ideological battle
artLee Hadwin can't draw when he's awake, but by night he's an artist
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Double chins could be 'cured' without surgery or dieting using new injection
- 2 The BBC has just done more to eradicate ‘terrorism’ than all our wars since 9/11
- 3 Dog thinks owner is drowning in lake, dives in and tries to pull him out
- 4 Thank heavens for Louise Mensch and her foul-mouthed tweets to world leaders
- 5 Saudi preacher who 'raped and tortured' his five -year-old daughter to death is released after paying 'blood money'
Ed Sheeran texts Noel Gallagher to offer him tickets after that Wembley Stadium rant
Blink-182 split: Tom Delonge is 'disrespectful and ungrateful' say Travis Barker and Mark Hoppus
Emma Watson to play Belle in Beauty and the Beast
Roald Dahl letter warning student to 'eschew beastly adjectives' rediscovered after 35 years
Sia apologises for 'Elastic Heart' music video that sees Shia LaBeouf wrestle 12-year-old Maddie Ziegler
'We would evict Queen from Buckingham Palace and allocate her council house,' say Greens
French court convicts three over homophobic tweets, in case hailed as a 'significant victory' by LGBT rights campaigners
Greece elections: Syriza and EU on collision course after election win for left-wing party
British Muslim school children suffering a backlash of abuse following Paris attacks
Islamic history is full of free thinkers - but recent attempts to suppress critical thought are verging on the absurd
British grandmother Lindsay Sandiford faces execution by firing squad in Indonesia