Scabrously funny but more than a little shallow, US playwright Nicky Silver’s dysfunctional family comedy provided him with a breakthrough hit back home, where it made the leap from a small off-Broadway theatre to the Great White Way itself.
It’s not going to repeat the feat here, I don’t think, but the show’s original director Mark Brokaw and an immaculately accented British cast provide two, pretty solid hours of laughs as ‘The Lyons’ makes its UK premiere.
The first half is set entirely at the hospital deathbed of Ben Lyons (Nicholas Day), the cantankerous old patriarch of the eponymous New York Jewish family. Joining him are his horrendously passive-aggressive wife Rita (Isla Blair) and their kids: recovering alcoholic Lisa (Charlotte Randle) and gay Curtis (Tom Ellis), who turns out to be holding a rather dramatic secret.
As a clan, they’re a veritable multiple pile-up of human car crashes – selfish, self-absorbed and incapable of loving themselves, each other or anybody else. But we feel a little for the children, at least, who have clearly been so damaged by their awful parents, and in the standout turn Ellis even made me like the unstable, deluded Curtis a tiny bit.
It is funny, in a wildly inappropriate, oh-my-god-did-she-really-say-that type way. Beyond that, I wasn’t quite sure what the point was: if there really are families like this, I’m pretty sure they all live in New York, but in London ‘The Lyons’ comes across as a series of dark jokes rather than a social satire, and it has a strangely disjoined structure, full of abrupt gear shifts and unlikely monologues, with a weirdly tangential middle act.
It’s Bruce Norris-lite, basically, and if you loved Norris’s 2010 smash ‘Clybourne Park’ you’ll probably like this – just not quite as much.
By Andrzej Lukowski