The Living Room, Jermyn Street Theatre, London
Tuesday 12 March 2013
In the imaginative world of Graham Greene, “Leaving the miraculous out of life is rather like leaving out the lavatory or dreams or breakfast,” wrote Kenneth Tynan in a 1953 profile of the author.
Like T S Eliot, who also moonlighted on the West End stage, Greene wanted to use theatre to see existence not just in terms of psychology (with its emphasis on neurosis and cure) but from the perspective of eternity – in Greene's case, a Roman Catholic one (with its emphasis on sin and damnation/redemption).
But it was easier for him to achieve a properly creative entanglement between these different schemes of value in his novels than it was within the narrow stage conventions of the 1950s, as is egregiously demonstrated now by Tom Littler's valiant attempt to reclaim The Living Room, a work that has not had in a major revival since the year of Tynan's profile.
Two doddery old sisters and their wheelchair-bound RC priest brother lead an increasingly confined life because of the family policy of locking any room where there has been a death. The eponymous chamber is the top-floor night nursery. There's potential for an Ealing Comedy here, but instead Greene gives us a stiff-jointed, creaky – and more than faintly rigged - debate between humanism and Catholicism.
Tuppence Middleton makes a striking impression as Rose, the young girl driven to despair when her affair with the middle-aged executor of her mother's will is discovered and condemned by her cranky great aunts (movingly played by Caroline Blakiston and Diane Fletcher) and by a showdown with his stricken wife (a very believable Emma Davis).
Rose's suicide feels like a melodramatic convenience not the culmination of the conflicted forces that Greene has stagily and crudely unleashed. It's there to a contorted post-mortem discussion about the cosmic significance of what has happened that comes over as rebarbatively abstract and inhuman.
You'd never believe that she had ever (let alone so recently) been a lovely, flesh-and-blood creature with her life in front of her. As the wheelchair priest, Christopher Timothy does his best with lines that are sometimes unspeakable in more ways than one. The lover (a puffy Christopher Villiers) has to mouth clunkers such as “It's a funny thing. I'm supposed to be a psychologist and I've ruined two people's minds”.
To see The Living Room once is to feel that one has halved one's time in purgatory; to see it twice would likely wipe the debt clean.
To March 30; 020 7287 2875
Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites
TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Planes go hybrid-electric in important step to greener flight
- 2 Antonio Martin shooting: Mayor says there should be 'no comparison' to Ferguson
- 3 Antonio Martin shooting: Police and protesters clash over teenager's death just five miles from Ferguson, Missouri
- 4 British actor Idris Elba cannot star as James Bond because he is black, says shock jock Rush Limbaugh
- 5 Northern Lights in the UK: Stunning Aurora Borealis illuminates Northumberland sky on Christmas Eve
Cruel Woman in Black prank sees cinema-goers terrified by movie poster - watch their reactions
Best underrated Christmas movies: From Trading Places to While You Were Sleeping
Game of Thrones season five: First preview clip shows a beardy Tyrion, a moody Cersei and a distressed Arya
Christmas TV guide 2014: The best shows to watch from Doctor Who to Downton Abbey
Merry Xmas Everybody: Slade tops 'most-streamed' Spotify Christmas tunes of 2014
Nigel Farage defends Kerry Smith 'ch***y' comment: 'If you are going for a Chinese, what do you say you’re going for?'
Rozanne Duncan: Ukip expels councillor for 'jaw-dropping' comments made in BBC TV interview
British actor Idris Elba cannot star as James Bond because he is black, says shock jock Rush Limbaugh
Germany anti-Islam protests: 17,000 march on Dresden against 'Islamification of the West'
Panic Saturday: 13 million Britons spend £1.2bn – while 13 million others across the country live in poverty unable to afford food
BBC director Danny Cohen: Rising UK antisemitism makes me feel more uncomfortable than ever