The Lyons, Menier Chocolate Factory, London


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The Independent Culture

The hospital bedside of your cancer-ridden husband of forty years is perhaps not the most tactful place to be flipping through glossy magazines in search of ideas for home redecoration. But the imminent demise of its head seems to have disinhibited the middle-class Jewish Lyons clan from much semblance of mutual sensitivity and restraint. Propped up on his pillows, Nicholas Day's irascible Ben feels free to fulminate in foul-mouthed rants against everyone but his idolised and long-dead father. “I'm dying, Rita,” he rages at his wife. “I know, dear. Try to look on the positive side,” she replies brightly. 

Seen on Broadway last year, Nicky Silver's comedy of family dysfunction is now given its European premiere in this snappily acted production by its original director, Mark Brokaw. It assembles a bunch of stereotypes and attempts to send them in unconventional directions. Rita is the traditionally smothering, ego-crushing Jewish matriarch and Isla Blair gives her a very funny, sleekly four-square presence as she dispenses her barbs. “The chairs are the colour of disgust and the carpet is matted with resignation,” she proclaims, and might as well be talking of a marriage that, on her side, never had any love. Belatedly informed of their father's critical condition, her grown-up children arrive in the shape of Charlotte Randle's fractious, whiny Lisa, a recovering alcoholic separated from her abusive spouse, and the awkward and faintly pious Curtis (excellent Tom Ellis) a gay short story writer whose supposed boyfriend also turns out to be a work of fiction.

The Lyons is confined to the hospital room apart from the a scene in the second half – an edgy, arrestingly-written encounter in an empty New York apartment between Curtis and a young real estate agent who had trained to be an actor (Ben Aldridge). Degenerating into prurient hostility and violence, this skirmish reveals the full extent to which the Lyons' marriage has turned the children into damaged souls, unable to make a genuine connection even with one another. Not that Silver lets the pair get away with their snivelling self-pity.

Despite the fact that she bears a heavy part of the blame, you can't help but feel that it will do them good when, post-funeral, Rita outrageously reveals that she is leaving the children to their own devices and heading off to Aruba with Lisa's AA sponsor. “I waited until your father was almost dead”, she says of this affair. Too prepared, though, to sacrifice emotional truth for a zingy one-liner, this is writing that draws laughs but not blood.  

To 16 Nov; 020 7378 1713