Sunday, 29 September 2013

Theatre review: The Lyons

If there's an insatiable appetite for drama about dysfunctional families, The Lyons is here to feed it. Nicky Silver's off-Broadway hit comes to the Menier complete with original director Mark Brokaw, who has a new British cast to play the well-off Manhattan Jewish family. The scene is a private hospital room where Ben (Nicholas Day) has terminal cancer. He and wife Rita (Isla Blair) have known about his illness for months, but have chosen to wait until he has a matter of days left to live before springing the news on their children Lisa (Charlotte Randle) and Curtis (Tom Ellis.) Thrown into this small room together the family waste no time tearing into each other about their many long-standing grievances and disappointments. And once Ben has died we get to see what's left of the children he and Rita raised.

As a black comedy The Lyons is very successful, with a lot of strong laughs coming from the harsh way these people who are meant to love each other actually deal with each other. Rita in particular is gloriously spiky, but Ben is also determined she not steal all the limelight from his deathbed, and has no wish to reconcile his problems with his alcoholic daughter and gay son.


The Lyons is a certain kind of shrill, shouty comedy-drama that's particularly American, its overtly hysterical tone made bearable by how frequently funny it is. There's a few particularly clever, dark touches like Rita telling Ben her plans to redecorate the house after his death, or trying to fix Lisa up with a terminal patient in a neighbouring ward. Blair is obviously enjoying getting her teeth into the monstrous matriarch. Ellis I've never hugely rated as an actor; he's decent here, but there's something too self-consciously mannered about his characterisation of the neurotic Curtis.


The second act sees Curtis being shown around an apartment by a handsome estate agent (Ben Aldridge,) and we start to get a glimpse of just how much more fucked up than we realised he actually is. In fact for me the real black humour in the play isn't to be found around a deathbed but in the look at how severely damaged its characters are.


Having a stage full of thoroughly unlikeable characters doesn't necessarily mean they're not fun to be around, and The Lyons provide a funny couple of hours and a spikily entertaining time. While it may be clear though what made Curtis and Lisa such disasters, their lack of likeability does make it hard to care about their plight, and ultimately I felt there was something hollow to the play. I really enjoyed my time with The Lyons but I don't know that they'll stay with me particularly long.

The Lyons by Nicky Silver is booking until the 16th of November at the Menier Chocolate Factory.

Running time: 2 hours including interval.

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