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The Lyons, Menier Chocolate Factory | reviews, news & interviews

The Lyons, Menier Chocolate Factory

The Lyons, Menier Chocolate Factory

Bitter Broadway comedy crosses the Atlantic with aplomb

Scenes from a marriage: Isla Blair sits by the bedside of her dying - and bilious - husband (Nicholas Day) Nobby Clark

That slice of Broadway-upon-Southwark that is the Menier Chocolate Factory has a toxic treat in The Lyons, Nicky Silver's pitch-black and quintessentially New York comedy about a family so in love with truth-telling that they've all but forgotten how to live. Small wonder the cancer-ridden Lyons père (Nicholas Day, in blistering form) swears up a storm throughout the first act as he lies in hospital preparing to die.

Why go gently into the good night, the play's characters all in their own way ask, when you can exit in rampaging style, dragging everyone through the rancorous muck with you? 

In Manhattan, the play was mostly acclaimed for the performance as Rita Lyons, wife of the bedridden Ben, of Broadway veteran Linda Lavin, who was indeed extraordinary in the part; her singular vocal honk remains one of the abiding glories of the American stage, coupled with a pair of beady eyes that ensured that no aspersion was left either unmade or unremarked upon. 

Isla Blair and Charlotte Randle as Lyons, mother and daughterBut the surprising strength of the work's London incarnation is the equal weight that Mark Brokaw, repeating his American directorial chores, allows his London cast. Whereas on Broadway one experienced a vague sense of deflation whenever Lavin and her poisonous purr left the stage, Brokaw's crack British ensemble shares out the lacerations and the laughs. As a result, the play's quality as parable is revealed more sharply, the writing in its closing passages suggesting that people can move on from the metaphorically cancerous relationships in which they find themselves. Which in this case means looking anywhere but at your relations, since all they do is draw blood.

The cutting-to-the-quick is as often as not stingingly funny, whether the topic under discussion is son Curtis's gayness, daughter Lisa's alcoholism, or the sorry state of a living room that Rita (the ever-incisive Isla Blair, pictured above with Charlotte Randle as her daughter) is chafing at the bit to redecorate once Ben has been helpful enough to snuff it. (The chairs, we're told, are "the colour of disgust".) Think of Edward Albee's George and Martha in their twilight years and you get some sense of the dynamic of a couple of whom the eternally wise if withering Rita remarks, following Ben's death, "even contempt is a connection".

Ben Aldridge and Tom EllisHow have the offspring dealt with growing up in such a battleground? The second act shifts the focus to Curtis (TV regular Tom Ellis, of Miranda fame, in a rare stage appearance) and to a disastrous encounter with a real estate agent and would-be actor called Brian, whom Curtis has marked out - wrongly - as boyfriend material. (That latter part, all charm turning on a dime toward violence, is superbly taken by Ben Aldridge, whose expert American accent typifies the strength in that regard of the cast as a whole) 

A final scene lands us back in hospital with the same peppery nurse (Katy Secombe) but a different Lyons family member as patient, the physically and psychically scarred Curtis sending out the same ornery vibes as his late father, The tall, hirsute Ellis - tabloid totty not least in the gay press (and pictured above with Aldridge) - is odd casting physically for the role of the nebbishy Jewish son, a writer of dubious talent (at least so say his family) whose vitriol is revealed to be the flip side of desperation. But the actor, forever turning his long limbs into himself as if in perpetual discomfort, movingly lays bare the pain that in some way may be the Lyons's abiding bond. And when he starts to eat at the final curtain, the nurse seated attentively by his side, a victory of some kind has been achieved: in a landscape notably starved of compassion, it helps at some point to come to the table.

The play's quality as parable is revealed more sharply in London than it was on Broadway

rating

Editor Rating: 
4
Average: 4 (1 vote)

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