DESIRE UNDER THE ELMS
by Eugene O’Neill.
Lyric Hammersmith Lyric Square/King Street W12 8QD To 10 November 2012.
Mon-Sat 7.30pm Mat Sat 2.30pm & 17, 24 Oct, 7 Nov 1.30pm 21 Oct 6pm.
Audio-described 27 Oct 2.30[pm.
Captioned 22 Oct.
Runs 2hr 15min One interval.
TICKETS: 020 8741 6850.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 8 October.
Intense desire; distinct lack of elms.
Six years after Beyond the Horizon, his bleak study of an American farm, where two brothers each made the wrong decision about whether to stay or leave, Eugene O’Neill wrote Desire Under the Elms. Thanks to Laurie Sansom’s 2009 Northampton revival of Horizon, the cruel earth and crueller human temperament of this 1924 play can be seen as part of a continuum, also found in Mourning Becomes Electra, where family tensions are developed in the context of Greek Tragedy.
There’s a similar tragic intensity here, combined with Old Testament toughness. In his mid-seventies Ephraim Cabot marries a young wife, disinheriting his sons. Except two have already left the stony earth of their farm, selling their birthright to half-brother Eben, who pays for it with the old man’s cache of cash.
Brothers Simeon and Peter, bewhiskered and happy to leave – Simeon the piercingly wondering-eyed Mikel Murifi, Peter more apt to lead in Fergus O’Donnell’s performance – make off just before Finbar Lynch’s Ephraim, gaunt, black, remorseless, arrives with the glamorous Abbie.
Denise Gough’s free-moving, lively figure overcomes the reluctance of Morgan Williams’ Eben, loyal to his mother’s memory, to start a love affair that ends in deadly form after Ephraim poisons Eben’s mind against his wife. Tragedy hangs over the most joyous-seeming scene, as old Ephraim dances at celebrations for the birth of a child he thinks his son, while the local people laugh behind his back and to his face.
Director Sean Holmes emphasises the dry, stony lives here, to which Abbie, the only significant female, offers a contrast. It’s present in Eben’s inward-looking brooding and tormented memories of his mother, in the simplicity of his half-brothers and in Ephraim, granite-grim even as he celebrates.
Holmes and designer Ian McNeill allow no shade or green tinge of a tree on a stage that’s stripped back to the theatre walls (modern design cliché #1), the scene both crowded and fragmented as cramped compartments are wheeled around, compressing the aching separation of Eben and Abbie, almost telepathically reaching to each other through the walls, and the explosive hate that contrives the final tragedy.
Eben: Morgan Williams.
Simeon: Mikel Murfi.
Peter: Fergus O’Donell.
Ephraim Cabot: Finbar Lynch.
Abbie Putnam: Denise Gough.
Woman: Sandy Foster.
Man/Sheriff: Jum Creighton.
Musician: Jason Baughan.
Ensemble/Supernumaries: Emily Aitcheson, Hannah Evans, Elizabeth Gaubert, Charlotte Hall, Ruth Pearson, Stephanie Sowaha. Maralin Belchere, Dominic Ebbasi, Adonis Galeos, David Hodgson, Suzy Jacobsen, Camille Lesaffre, Peter Wackett, Marta Wojtczak.
Director: Sean Holmes.
Designer: Ian McNeill.
Lighting: James Farncombe.
Sound: Christopher Shutt.
Movement: Mikel Murfi.
Voice/Dialect: Penny Dyer.
Costume: Hyemi Shin.
Fight director: Kate Waters.
Assistant director: Cheryl Gallacher.