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
TV reviewBroadcasting House was preparing for a visit from Prince Charles spoiler alert
Glastonbury Michael Eavis reveals final headline act 'most likely' British pair
Film Ewan McGregor joins star-studded Beauty and the Beast cast as Lumiere
TVThe Island with Bear Grylls under fire after male contestants kill and eat rare crocodile
Grace Dent on TV The Secret Life of the Pub is sexist, ageist and a breath of fresh air
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Frank Lampard's face drops when Holly Willoughby introduces him as a 'Man City legend'
- 2 Migrant crisis: Greek soldier saved 20 people singlehandedly off Rhodes beach
- 3 UK weather: Britain braced for snow as arctic air mass moves in
- 4 Aaron and Melissa Klein: Oregon anti-gay bakers ordered to pay $135,000 after refusing to make cake for same-sex wedding
- 5 Stephen Hawking endorses Labour in the General Election
Fast & Furious 7 overtakes Frozen to become 5th highest grossing movie of all time
Poldark, series 1 finale, review: How a costume drama became a Sunday night swoon-fest
Al Pacino admits he was nearly fired from The Godfather and it's still his most 'difficult role'
Warner Music owner Len Blavatnik tops Sunday Times Rich List
Game of Thrones season 5 episode 3, review: Sansa and manhood-lopping torturer Ramsay Bolton - really?
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
The sickening truth about food banks that the Tories don't want you to know
Migrant boat disaster: Ukip candidate mocks victims in sickening Twitter post
Nigel Farage wants the BBC to stop making programmes like Doctor Who, Strictly Come Dancing, and Top Gear
Global warming: Scientists say temperatures could rise by 6C by 2100 and call for action ahead of UN meeting in Paris
Aaron and Melissa Klein: Oregon anti-gay bakers ordered to pay $135,000 after refusing to make cake for same-sex wedding