Autumn & Winter
Orange Tree Theatre Spring 2011
This is a Swedish play and so, inevitably, it is about an unhappy family.
Lars Noren (big in Europe, all but unknown in Britain) presents us with an older couple and their fortyish daughters during and after a wine-fuelled dinner.
The younger daughter is poor, unfulfilled, jealous of her sister's financial success, and convinced that there is some Deep Dark Secret in the family past that will explain why she's such a mess.
Relentlessly and with mounting hysteria she pushes the others to tell her what it is. But if there actually is a Deep Dark Secret, it never comes out.
We do get a few lesser and peripheral secrets - a long-ago affair, a burning disappointment, a lovingly nourished grudge - but not the big thing that will explain it all.
And that is evidently Noren's point - that, despite what plays and films have taught us through the years, lives are not shaped by one Deep Dark Secret whose revelation will magically make things better.
It is a strong message, and very probably a true one. But it is not wholly satisfactory as a theatrical experience.
We are in fact primed to expect a big revelation, and without it the play just peters out frustratingly. It may be only later, once we get past our vague disappointment, that we intellectually acknowledge the validity of Noren's insight.
(This is a variant on Chekhov's dictum about the gun: if you introduce a gun in the first scene, it had better go off in the last. Noren keeps brandishing that gun, but it's loaded with blanks.)
That the play has the power it does is largely a tribute to director Derek Goldby and his cast, who establish and sustain the reality of the characters even at their most archetypal.
Lisa Stevenson makes us believe in the younger sister's deep unhappiness even as we recognise the drama queen in her, half-enjoying her own misery.
Diane Fletcher and Kristin Hutchinson skilfully distinguish between two different kinds of denial while making us believe that their characters harbour agonies just as painful if less on display, and Osmund Bullock captures the pathos of a man whose life's work has been to be ineffective and irrelevant.
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Review of Autumn & Winter - Orange Tree Theatre 2011