Cottesloe Theatre, London SE1
Opened 3 August, 2004

Actress Rebecca Lenkiewicz broke through as a writer with Soho – A Tale Of Table Dancers. Now, with her second play, she’s at the National Theatre.  A world away from the fleshpots of London, The Night Season is set in a cottage in Sligo, in western Ireland.  It’s an entertaining, if slightly overlong, family drama: echoes of Chekhov and WB Yeats blend pleasingly with blunt contemporary one-liners.

Elderly Lily O’Hanlon is at that point where eccentricity tips into dementia.  She pines for her daughter, now living in London. Her son-in-law is a self-consciously literary drunkard, and her granddaughters are, to all intents and purposes, Chekhov’s Three Sisters.  When an English actor arrives to play WB Yeats in a dreadful film, we are given an opportunity to see the various relationships unfold and develop.

Eldest daughter Judith pines for the love affair that never took hold with dependable Gary; Rose has a fling with actor John then grows frustrated when it cools; Maud (I kid you not) wants to travel to Moscow; I did say Chekhov!  Lenkiewicz hails from Plymouth, but taps keenly into both the vocal and the emotional registers of Irish life.  Her skills keep us engaged through a play in which nothing really happens.

Lucy Bailey’s production drags a little in scene changes, but she handles her cast well, keeping everyone in that delicious Irish vein of sardonicism.  Susan Lynch is cast nicely against type as frustrated librarian Judith; David Bradley drunkenly quotes Shakespeare with relish; as Lily, Annette Crosbie enjoys growing old disgracefully.  As Gary, Lloyd Hutchinson’s name deserves to be as well known as these.

One’s not quite sure what the play is actually for: Lenkiewicz started out writing about Yeats, then decided to switch track to the present day.  There’s a sense that she knows how she wants to write, and pulls it off wonderfully, but isn’t so sure what.  Nevertheless, if it’s ordinary, messy, yearning hearts and loose-end lives that you want to see rather than high concept, this is something of a gem.

Written for Teletext.

Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.

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