AUTUMN & WINTER
by Lars Norén translated by Gunilla Anderman.
Orange Tree Theatre 1 Clarence Street TW9 2SA To 28 May 2011.
Mon-Sat 7.45pm Mat Sat 3pm & 24 May 2.30pm.
Audio-described 10 May.
Runs 1hr 40min No interval.
TICKETS: 020 8940 3633.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 7 May.
Things are no better in Sweden, it seems.
Senior Swedish playwright Lars Norén seems, on the evidence of this Orange Tree production, someone brought up on constant viewings of Ingmar Bergman’s less cheerful films, with holidays spent next door in Norway catching up on Ibsen’s social dramas (Hedda Gabler-like, there’s a dominant family portrait and the burning of someone’s papers here).
London theatre having largely sloughed-off its love of adultery-in-Hampstead plays, the Orange Tree is now importing Scandinavian family misery. It seems many unhappy families are, regardless of nationality, unhappy in much the same way.
The action – using the term loosely – begins, of course, as dinner ends. Norén has assembled a quartet of family characters with potential for something of a minor Festen (only the slightest hint of possible child abuse, but plenty of acrimony nonetheless).
Main agent of tearing the family apart is Ann, one of the two adult daughters, a furious non-conformist living on the edge of poverty, searching after (she has no idea) what happened during childhood to cause her constant anger.
With considerable wealth and comparative placidity, her sister Ewa gradually reveals her own discontent. Meanwhile, Margareta’s maternal pleasure in the family gathering is brought under pressure while father Henrik’s benign presence becomes increasingly apparent as passivity, his personality as empty as the wine-bottle by him on the table.
Osmund Bullock gauges perfectly the audience’s gradual perception of this lack of force, while Diane Fletcher skilfully moves from smiles and contentment to her own anguish. Kristin Hutchinson’s Ewa maintains a chic exterior and immaculate ensemble of clothing and cosmetics, masks for her illness and dependency on tablets.
This cast is magnetic in their various styles of disintegration. Across the table from Hutchinson in Derek Goldby’s well-paced and fiery production, is Lise Stevenson’s wild-card Ann, rejecting bourgeois politeness and shooting tirades of near-relentless anger.
It’s hampered only by Norén insistently repeating points already made. This lacks the remorselessness of Eugene O’Neill, repetitive master to whom a programme-note compares the Swede.
Impressive in its way, it still leaves a certain fear that British theatre might be tempted to work through Europe’s dysfunctional middle-classes country by country.
Margareta: Diane Fletcher.
Ewa: Kristin Hutchinson.
Ann: Lisa Stevenson.
Henrik: Osmund Bullock.
Director: Derek Goldby.
Designer: Sam Dowson.
Lighting: John Harris.
Associate director: Teunkie van der Sluijs.