Like Ibsen's masterbuilder, Greig's architect Leo Black (Alexander Morton) faces two crumbling edifices: his career and his marriage. Some 20 years ago, he was responsible for a revolutionary housing scheme, whose circle of tower blocks alluded to Stonehenge. The interconnecting walkways and so on may have had a Mandala-like elegance on paper, but the tenants have had enough of the daily nightmare of living in Eden Court and want Leo's dream project blown up.
There are portentous rumblings at home, too. Leo's wife Paulina (Morag Hood) is obsessed by the pollution of her environment, from poisons in the air to fish brains in beer. The familial malaise has also infected Martin and Dorothy, the twentysomething children, who feel trapped, if not imprisoned, by the family. To escape, Martin (Tom Smith) goes cottaging and Dorothy (Ashley Jensen) hitches rides at night with long-distance lorry drivers.
A century ago, Ibsen would have peeled the layers off an onion like this, revealing the causes of all the pain. But Greig denies us the comfort of any objective corollary to explain the existential unease on view. He does give us hints, though. Dorothy's panic attacks clearly have a lot to do with an excessively intimate, if not actually incestuous, relationship with her father, just as Martin's lack of direction may have been caused by his father's success. We're never quite sure, however, for, as Dorothy explains to lorry driver Joe, there's "no asking and telling in our family".
In their own perverse ways, each member of the Black family seems to be looking for some kind of spiritual redemption to wash off the grime of everyday existence, which Greig communicates without a hint of pomposity or affectation. We see his characters in a succession of interleaved scenes, mostly simple exchanges between two people, the tension captured beautifully in barbed, paradoxical lines. Joe describes himself as "like an old married couple. I tolerate myself."
Ashley Jensen and Eric Barlow imbue Dorothy and Joe's overnight trip to Hull and back with extraordinary erotic melancholy. Tom Smith and Paul Hickey are equally impressive as Martin and his lover Billy from the wrong side of the tracks. Morag Hood plays the flaky Paulina with sympathy and delicate comic timing. Greig deals out his characters' misery with a lashing of acerbic wit. Ironically, it is Leo who remains the real enigma. He carries the play's metaphorical weight but is never fully fleshed out either in Greig's writing or in Morton's performance. As a result, we stay uncomfortably detached from his dilemma and his fate.
Nevertheless, Philip Howard's production provides convincing evidence of David Greig's confident transition from a dramatist of promise to one of stature.
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