Is Menier's Lyons a roaring success?
Nicky Silver's black comedy ''The Lyons'' opened at the Menier Chocolate Factory last week. Starring Isla Blair, Nicholas Day, Charlotte Randall and Tom Ellis, it runs until 16 November
Silver's usual New York director, Mark Brokaw, has come across to direct an exceptionally good British cast led by the wonderful Isla Blair as the matriarchal nightmare figure, Rita Lyons, checking out the interior decoration catalogues as Nicholas Day's suddenly dyspeptic, foul-mouthed husband Ben lies dying of cancer in a hospital bed... They make Rory Kinnear's vitriolic tribe in his new play The Herd at the Bush look like pussy-cats... One of the things I like most about the play is that you're never quite sure where it's going next, but still the playwright never loses control. Cheers, Nicky Silver, we know you don't really mean all that, and thank you for helping us get through two hours of very enjoyable sitcom-style theatre. The design of Jonathan Fensom is terrific, too.
Nicky Silver is a prolific New York dramatist who is scarcely known in London...I'd say Silver is an American Joe Orton who specialises in comic outrageousness...[who] eventually offers a blanket of reassurance to send customers home happy. As a comedy of reversal, overturning expectations of deathbed repentance and familial forgiveness, the play works very well for one act. Mark Brokaw ...also gets highly assured performances from Tom Ellis as the unhappy Curtis, Charlotte Randle as his soused sibling, and Nicholas Day as the raging father. But, while it's good to find a comedy that takes a few well-aimed potshots at the household gods and the nuclear family, in the end I feel Silver is firing with rubber bullets.
This recast and remodelled American import...suggests that its author Nicky Silver...has drunk deep from the poisoned well of Edward Albee's play, and he's giddy on the taste...Much of the first act is horribly amusing. A fair bit of it is also plain horrid. This isn't a comedy for anyone who's going through or has recently experienced the fall-out from a terminal diagnosis or a bereavement. The evening, smartly directed by Mark Brokaw, revels in the writhing spectacle of family as vipers' nest... Much better sedate than standing, Tom Ellis as the cerebral Curtis...with Katy Secombe's deadpan, no-nonsense nurse.... And even Nicholas Day's grouch-bag paterfamilias gets a surreal beyond-the-grave turn... This is the spikiest show in town, but it's beautifully laced – who'd have guessed it? – with something approaching love.
...It assembles a bunch of stereotypes and attempts to send them in unconventional directions...The Lyons is confined to the hospital room apart from the a scene in the second half – an edgy, arrestingly-written encounter in an empty New York apartment between Curtis and a young real estate agent who had trained to be an actor (Ben Aldridge). Degenerating into prurient hostility and violence, this skirmish reveals the full extent to which the Lyons' marriage has turned the children into damaged souls, unable to make a genuine connection even with one another. Not that [Nicky]Silver lets the pair get away with their snivelling self-pity...Too prepared, though, to sacrifice emotional truth for a zingy one-liner, this is writing that draws laughs but not blood.
…The crucial role is Rita, and Blair impressively mixes purring sleekness with a suffocating hostility. Tom Ellis… plays against type as perennial fantasist Curtis. In the second half we see his grotesquely fumbling attempts to make a connection with a stranger, which result in his freaking out estate agent Brian (Ben Aldridge). Mark Brokaw, who oversaw the original productions both off Broadway and on it, directs fluently, and the quality of the British cast's American accents is unusually high. But when the sourness abates and pain comes to the surface, the whiny awfulness of the characters means it's hard to care much about their plight. The Lyons is a play that contains plenty of snappy exchanges yet, for all its spurts of bilious excess, it's much safer than it wants to be and doesn't pack enough emotional punch.
…In an age of glutinous empathy, there is a bracing ferocity in Nicky Silver's Broadway portrayal… The result is the best comedy to hit the London stage this year, a real find, with a British cast rising joyfully to the occasion under the original Broadway director Mark Brokaw. Awful behaviour in an intimate setting is cathartic, and Silver's gift for invective, bathos and surprise keeps us either giggling and gasping or — in one artfully awkward scene — nicely puzzled… In the end, though, Silver has his cake and eats it. Isla Blair's final speech and wonderful misdemeanour had me clapping a hand over my mouth in delighted horror. Tom Ellis's last line made me sniff.