The TheatreguideLondon Review
The Late Middle Classes
man returns to memories of his childhood and realises what he couldn't
see then, how imperfect and unhappy the adults around him were.
That's really about
it, as far as Simon Gray's 1999 drama goes, and the knowledge that it
is strongly autobiographical doesn't really add much to what, when you
come down to it, is little more than a well-written soap opera episode.
Except for a frame
in the present, the play is set in the 1950s on an English coastal
island much like the one on which Gray grew up. Young Holly, roughly 13
or so, observes but does not fully comprehend his unhappy and
love-starved mother, his disappointed-with-life and emotionally stifled
father, the immigrant piano teacher whose interest in his pupil may not
be entirely musical, and that man's agoraphobic mother, anticipating
the Gestapo at the door at any moment.
Mother and father
look up from their self-absorption just long enough to overreact to the
piano teacher's probably chaste interest in their son, and a fortuitous
school scholarship takes them away and ends the episode.
Eugene O'Neill and
to a lesser extent Tennessee Williams and even Neil Simon were
successful in raising autobiographical material to tragic heights and
resonant drama, but Gray's story too infrequently rises above the level
of personal anecdote.
The most resonant
observations are almost throwaways - the parents' casual anti-Semitism
that reaches its peak when the worst insult the father can hurl at the
teacher is not homosexual or paedophile but Jew, the immigrant woman's
paranoia, the grown Holly's passing revelations that he is more like
his father than he might yet realise.
simple dramaturgy is clumsy, with almost nothing happening in the long
first act, which is all just extended introduction to the characters,
while the second act opens with a bit of melodrama which is a total red
herring (and which, incidentally, happens outside Holly's hearing and
seeing, violating the memory premise of the play).
direction can't disguise any of these flaws and limitations, though the
admirably hard-working cast - Helen McCrory as mother, Peter Sullivan
as father, Robert Glenister as teacher, Eleanor Bron as his mother, and
a rotating trio of boys (I saw the quite impressive Harvey Allpress) -
do manage to create and sustain moments of reality out of what are
little more than stock characters.
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Review - Late Middle Classes - Donmar 2010