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 The Theatreguide.London Review


In Celebration
Duke of York's Theatre Summer 2007

David Storey's 1969 play follows the template of a string of stage and television dramas of the 1960s, so much so that, coming near the end of the cycle, it had an air of deja vu about it even in its first production.

If I tell you that the seemingly successful middle-class sons of a Northern mining couple assemble for their parents' anniversary and confess or expose the emptiness of their lives, you'll think you remember seeing it even if you never have.

In this case the McGuffin (I don't mind giving this away because it is so prosaic) is one son's belief that they were all driven to empty success to make up for their mother's bitterness at marrying beneath her - and then that turns out to be a cover for an even more banal explanation, his resentment at being sent to live with neighbours for a few weeks as a child.

And so this bitter son browbeats his brothers into admitting or half-admitting that they're not happy either, and tries repeatedly to force his vision onto his uncomprehending parents, and then, without anything actually coming to a head, the weekend ends and everyone goes their separate ways.

There could be some power to this. Even if the psychology is by-the-numbers, Storey does work hard to convince us that the characters' emotions are real, and the explosion of all that repressed pain could make for solid melodrama. But not in this lifeless, rhythmless, reality-less production.

Though everyone on stage is a talented, experienced professional, this revival has the feel of an amateur community theatre production. They all remember their lines and avoid bumping into the furniture, but there is no sense of character behind the speeches.

You never really believe anyone is feeling what their words express, or that their words have any effect on anyone else. Even when one character is expressing emotion, it is in a vacuum. Nobody else listens or reacts; they just wait passively for their cue and their turn to talk while the others turn off.

You have to take the playwright's word that these characters are a family with a history - or, indeed, that they have ever actually met each other before.

Berkowitz's Law: when everyone in a cast is bad, and bad in the same way, they're just following orders and the failure is the director's. Anna Mackmin simply has not created a reality for the play or guided her actors to anything beyond the most surface of performances.

The obligatory movie star that enables serious drama to work economically in the West End is in this case Orlando Bloom, though his fans will be disappointed to find that he has one of the smallest and least interesting roles, of the quiet, mousy brother who spends most of the play hiding in one corner or another and mourning for his life.

The showier role of the bitter, trouble-making brother should, even with its psychological clichés, have more reality than Paul Hilton has been guided to give it.

Tim Healy shouts a lot as the father but does hint at some depth and complexity, though I'm not absolutely sure it's what the playwright intended. My guess is that Storey wanted us to glimpse a cold core beneath false bonhomie, but what Healy actually gives us are hints of real warmth beneath a gruff exterior.

No one else in the cast registers at all.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review - In Celebration -Duke of York's 2007