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 The Theatreguide.London Review

The Living Room
Jermyn Street Theatre Spring 2013

In the sixty years since Graham Greene's first play, The Living Room, received its UK premiere, the stigma around extra-marital affairs has greatly relaxed, but the play is not dated because its concern is not for public morality.

Instead, with the entire thing shut up in one room of one house, Rose's affair with the executor of her mother's will is subjected only to the scrutiny of her family's Catholicism, and what the human conscience can bear.

A minor and an orphan, Rose is sent at the beginning of the play to live with her mother's relatives, three aged siblings who have shut up half of their large house out of terror at the thought of living in any room where somebody has died.

Delivered by her father’s oldest friend, Michael (Christopher Villiers), married and some thirty years her senior, Rose arrives flushed by a school-girlish excitement at having become his mistress the previous evening.

In The Living Room, innocence may be retained in spite of carnal knowledge and true experience comes not from love but from suffering: Greene’s complicated attitudes towards his own Catholicism pervade the entire piece.

At the beginning, it feels like director Tom Littler has actually tried to downplay the importance of the Catholicism, with several actors throwing away quite weighty lines.

But no amount of modernising could remove the importance of faith from this play, nor should it – Greene was never much interested in the moralising aspects of Catholicism himself, and Littler should trust him more.

The battle between the doctrine of Rose’s priest uncle and the Freudian theory of her psychologist lover may have dated, but the moral quandaries have not: some of the characters may judge Rose and Michael, but Greene himself never does.

Tuppence Middleton as Rose looks like a beautiful doll, impossibly young and in peril. She occasionally lacks the depth and tension the other characters describe her as having, but turns in a generally impressive stage debut despite this, managing to convey with ease the contrast between the Rose of the play’s first and second halves – the real emotional adulthood she has gained three weeks on from her first giggling, self-assured appearance.

There is strong support for Middleton and the surprisingly likeable Villiers from a mature cast, with Caroline Blakiston sweetly doddery as Teresa and Diane Fletcher, by contrast, sharp as steel as Helen.

Meanwhile, Christopher Timothy is deeply affecting as the third sibling, Father Browne, who lost his legs in a car accident and can no longer say Mass or hear confession, but still clings somehow onto the thin thread of his faith.

Timothy is wonderfully sad and kind, if here and there not quite angry or thwarted enough, in a performance of real depth.

More clearly than any other, it is an affecting scene between Rose and her lover’s mentally unwell wife (a remarkable, all too brief performance from Emma Davies) which underscores the real grasp of human misery that exists in this play.

The Living Room has stood the test of time and bears reviving because, in spite of its 1950s trappings and its Catholic preoccupation with sin, it is really about suffering – and human suffering doesn't date.

Lauren Mooney

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