Friday, 15 March 2013

Theatre review: The Living Room

A rather different meditation on religion tonight than the one I watched last night. Tom Littler revives Graham Greene's first play at Jermyn Street, and like some of Greene's novels it wrestles with the Catholicism he converted to. In The Living Room 20-year-old Rose (Tuppence Middleton,) whose father died when she was a baby, has just lost her mother as well. She is to be placed in the care of her great uncle and two great aunts, in a large London house that appears to have been badly affected during the Blitz. Her uncle James (Christopher Timothy) is a Catholic priest, confined to a wheelchair 20 years previously, so the secret Rose is barely able to keep will be a problem in this household: She's recently started having an affair with Michael (Christopher Villiers,) the much older, married executor of her mother's will.

But the retired priest isn't the one Rose should be worried about, as her aunt Helen (Diane Fletcher) is a much more judgmental force, and Rose finds herself in a house where religious terror rules: The building hasn't, in fact, been bomb-damaged - the reason much of it is closed off is that Helen and her sister Teresa (Caroline Blakiston) refuse to use any room anyone has ever died in, so the siblings are confined to a handful of attic rooms, including the makeshift living room of the title.

Perhaps I wasn't in the right frame of mind, or maybe I've had my fill of old priests this week, but The Living Room never really sucked me in, and there were parts that bored me. This is in spite of a strong production from Littler and intense performances from his cast. The play certainly touches on ideas that I find interesting, particularly the juxtaposition of faith and science as the priest who hasn't exactly lost his faith but has questioned his purpose now he can't tend to a flock, comes face to face with Michael, a professor of psychology, and each tries to second-guess the other's thought processes. And the sisters' fear of death that tips over into superstition raises interesting points about people who proclaim themselves confident of a happy afterlife but are terrified of dying. But ultimately The Living Room didn't grip me.

The Living Room by Graham Greene is booking until the 30th of March at Jermyn Street Theatre.

Running time: 2 hours 15 minutes including interval.

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