It was the last day of the month and the last night of the run, and a full house: a Saturday night house for a play which spans a weekend. An outing of ladies seated behind us was congratulating itself on choosing to attend this play rather than the Scottish play which is next in the season. “I’m so glad we came tonight” said one. “It’s so much lighter than Macbeth.”
Perhaps. Albee is a heavyweight playwright. His themes are weighty. On the other hand, we were promised - in the programme - "acerbic wit".
Maybe the lightness comes from Albee’s absurdist belief that we exist in a meaningless, random universe.
In the light of the absurdism, the family - Agnes and Tobias, Claire and Julia - are required to talk a great deal in a succession of soliloquies and to drink (almost) too much throughout.
So far, so good: a drawing room comedy that has some good lines but is not that funny and is primarily signalling the deep-seated issues in what we quickly understand to be a seriously dysfunctional family. And then enter their closest and oldest friends, Edna and Harry. They have come to stay, because they were scared. Of what?
“We were frightened and there was nothing!” says Edna. (Hint! Hint!)
Edna and Harry are both invaders of the household and also the mirror-reflections of Tobias and Agnes. They are the catalyst for the disintegration of the family and their routines and rituals. This is the focus of Acts II and III, and this is where the individual crises of each character are highlighted.
I am guessing that director Sue Moore has encouraged a realistic approach to the script. It may be absurdist, abstract, prolix. But this cast ensures that there is no difficulty in suspending our disbelief.
The “fulcrum” Agnes (Lorna Middleton) delivers her long speeches with an almost gossipy eloquence. The ‘well-named” Claire (Leonie Frazier) is wholly convincing both as an observer and a deliverer of cutting-edge venom. Tobias (Craig Shelton) is memorable as a physical presence and delivers one of the most moving moments of the play in a meditative monologue after a night without sleep. Julia (Leonie Slater) manages to make the contradictions of her role - four times married and nearly 40 years old but behaving like a ranting teenager - credible. Harry (Paul Curran) has little to say, but says it well (the last scene with Tobias) and plays his silences better. Edna (Lucinda Toomey) is solid and stolid, her language and attitude, brusque and down-to-earth. Her fear is reflections in the mirror, the recognition that they would not have allowed their friends to stay had their situations been reversed.
It is to an already departed Edna that Agnes sums up the previous two and a half hours in the final line of the play:
“We sleep to let the demons out, to let the mind go raving mind, and when the daylight comes again … comes order with it.”
Today from the everysmith vaults: At FarmAid 2023, Bob picked up his guitar again and treated us to Maggie’s Farm, Positively 4th Street, and Ballad of a Thin Man. I’m not going to quote Dr Johnson on the topic of women preaching, but I will say it was not bad; in fact, not bad at all.