Wyndham's Theatre, London, January 23-April 13
Author: Simon Gray
Director: Richard Eyre
Cast includes: Rowan Atkinson, Conleth Hill, Will Keen, Felicity Montagu, Malcolm Sinclair, Louise Ford
Gray seems to be aiming for something close to Chekhov in this play
from 1981. He keeps name-checking the Russian’s plays and those of his
things in four acts and the whole thing has a sense of melancholy.
“family” here is a staff room of social misfits teaching at a third
rate English language school in the fifties. Grey knows all about this
world of drudgery, cynicism
and lost dreams from personal experience and, possibly in spite himself,
there’s an affection there even as it drips with bitterness.
for pathos rather than laughs for the first time Rowan Atkinson
portrays a socially dysfunctional teacher who begins as a mild irritant
to those around him.
But Atkinson has proved he’s a master of the social outcast before with
his mister Bean character. Yes, that was based in physical slapstick but
celebrated routines such as waiting for guests that never show at a New
Years Eve party have also conveyed the horror
of loneliness and the gnawing realisation that
one cares. What’s fascinating here is a change in those around him who
come, mid play, to value his mild-mannered presence as a soothing balm
to their angst ridden lives.
requires an actor in the central role who can play an empty shell of a
man living in the bubble of his own mind whilst chaos reigns around him.
this with an empty gaze, an occasional fidget and a wistful smile. It
could be subtler but he’s hampered by his own charisma, we can’t take
our eyes off him as a character who ought to fade into the wallpaper.
else raises the level of performance accordingly, Grey gives them all a
moment in the spotlight which they grab and play to the full like
greedy actors rather
than brow-beaten souls who let slip a glimpse of their inner turmoil.
The result is that you get your expensive ticket price worth of west end
acting rather a subtle exploration of a world in a downward spiral.
Even the set makes the tatty old staff room look
like a boutique hotel lobby.
Hill is on fine fruity form as a respected academic with a chaotic home
life. Malcolm Sinclair is charming as a deteriorating old queen trying
to keep spirits
up, Will Keen plays an absurdly accident prone newcomer with
surprisingly effective aggression and Louise Ford and Felicity Montagu
portray mouse wife and frustrated spinster to the hilt.
This is top class West End fare but it might have been a little more Chechovian without it’s irresistible star turn.