Next to the elegant doodle of Yasmina Reza's Art, her earliest play Conversations After a Burial is an altogether more earnest, and ultimately unsatisfying, affair, at least in the production that marks its British premiere at the Almeida.
There's little of the caustic wit, sharp characterisation and clever structure that has made Art, and Matthew Warchus's super-smart production of it, one of the longest running attractions in the West End. In the place of Art's light spirits, a dark Chekhovian gloom hangs over the country house where three adult siblings, Nathan, Alex and Edith, have come to bury their father.
In the rustic setting, gorgeously realised in Rob Howell's design, cast in the dappled light of autumn (Mark Henderson), the play's title says it all about what follows.
As well as his children, the mourners also include Alex's former girlfriend, Elisa, with whom Nathan once had a one-night stand and between whom there is still a residing attraction, consummated here, symbolically, on the father's grave. Thus the stage is set for an evening of revelation and remorse, resentment and recrimination. Not to mention the preparation of a pot-au-feu, which (this being a French play) occupies much of the action. It's not much of a plot, but neither was that of Art. What matters in both plays is the gradual unfolding of character that the central event - the buying of the painting in Art, the funeral in Conversations - leads to.
However, despite the efforts of a crack cast - Matthew Marsh, Paul Higgins and Amanda Root as the siblings, Clare Holman as the woman the brothers have shared, plus David Calder and Claire Bloom as the deceased's brother-in-law and wife - to unpeel the layers of this dramatic action, there is little tension to the uninvolving evening that results. Perhaps Howard Davies's production is too languid, too stately. It takes its time, like a French arthouse movie. But there's no pay-off, just a gradual fade-out. Drains overflow, thunder rumbles, nothing much is resolved. Probably like life, but not much like drama.