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
Average User Rating
3.5 / 5
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A dysfunctional family gathers round the hospital bed of its dying patriarch. It doesn’t take long for the stilted niceties to give way to recriminations and revelations between the bickering foursome. With scenes in either a hospital room or an empty flat, this play could have been set in any city, anytime. This generality could have been its strength, becoming a chameleon to whichever audience in whichever city it is shown to, but in this instance, is its major weakness. The strident accents, and passing references to Suzanne Pleshette, Cagney and Lacey, and the Chrysler Building root it firmly in the US – making it a hit on Broadway, but a detriment in London if one is relying on them for laughs. The era in which the play is set is indeterminate – the father’s rejection of his son’s homosexuality is almost quaint in this modern times. Had they translated this family as English – ditch the American accents, put a joke here and there about the NHS in the hospital scenes, and reference British personalities and shows – one wonders if it could have elicited more reaction from the audience. Cheap laughs were wrung out at the beginning from having the father swear like a sailor at his various family members, but anyone other than fifteen-year-old boys will tire of this eventually. Some pathos is injected in the second half with each family member seizing what seems like their first steps toward redemption, despite the downpour of vitriol from the first half. However, it just seemed too little too late to like these unsympathetic characters. The performances were polished, but were restricted by the material. Neither a particularly witty nor emotional play, sitting through The Lyons was like spending Christmas dinner with difficult family members, and like in that situation, this audience member sighed with relief when it was all over.
Fabulous play, expertly executed. The script is sharp, brilliantly funny and was delivered with fabulous timing. Standout performance from Isla Blair, although the whole (very small cast) were exceptional. Even the American accents didn't falter. Get a ticket, go and see it.