In making his stage debut as the youngest of three brothers returning home to Yorkshire for their parents’ fortieth wedding anniversary, Orlando Bloom exhibits a faultless modesty. His character Steven, a discouraged teacher, stuttering novelist and father of four, is a silent, moody introvert. He says very little and rarely commands the stage. He succumbs to a little light weeping, but does that in the safety of the darkness.
Unfortunately, Bloom, suitably expressionless as the blond, bland elf archer Legolas in The Lord of the Rings film trilogy, does not convey the swirls and eddies of emotional crisis that the David Storey role demands. Acting is more than words. And in his brown clothes, trim moustache and self-effacing stance, Bloom remains a wallflower at his own party.
In Celebration (1969) is one of five plays Storey had produced – all directed by the Lindsay Anderson – at the Royal Court in an astonishing four-year burst. All transferred to the West End, except this one, and none were filmed, except this one. That 1974 film, with the original cast, remains a testament to the extraordinary Court collaboration between Storey and Anderson and a kind of charged social realism, not to mention testosterone factor, in the acting of Alan Bates, James Bolamand Brian Cox (Steven) as the brothers.
Anna Mackmin’s revival – far inferior to Sean Holmes’ revelatory revival in the Minerva, Chichester, six years ago – is a desperate mish-mash of acting styles that subject Storey’s careful, attenuated writing to the kind of strain it cannot survive.
Tim Healy’s Mr Shaw, 50 years down the mine and smoking like a trooper, is a bull-like comedy turn in his white vest and bulging eyes, while Dearbhla Molloy as his wistfully elegant wife suggests a world elsewhere but not a reason for having married the old brute in the first place.
Like some unholy collision between Eugene O’Neill and D H Lawrence, the play hinges on ancient familial grudges and resentments. The Shaws had a first son who died aged seven of pneumonia and the other three have paid different penalties for that tragedy. As with all family reunions in the theatre, the underpinning is revealed as rotting as the show wears on.
Paul Hilton as eldest son Andrew whirls his arms about in an energetic display of sardonic defiance; he has thrown up a career in law to be an artist. Gareth Farr as Colin, a white collar worker in a car factory who might be about to marry a dentist, is a passive blob. But you can’t relate any of this to Storey’s idea of cultural and social alienation.
The neighbours are excruciatingly played by Lynda Baron and Ciaran McIntyre, arriving as if determined to lighten the mood. And Lez Brotherston’s detailed sitting room design has a mysteriously under-used and under-lit upper level. The play is a trial for the whole family and, in these circumstances, the audience as well.