The Autumn Garden: Lillian Hellman
Jermyn Street Theatre, London, to 29 10 16
Runs 2hr 35 with interval
Review: Tom Aitken, 8 October 2016
Reflective drama-comedy or tragedy? Both
The Autumn Garden is described as a ‘Chekovian comedy’. I see what is meant and the description is fair and accurate. But, to an extent greater than is usual with Chekov, you will find yourself at increasingly shorter intervals inclined to wince or weep.
We are given the story of the reunion, in September 1949, of a family and its friends and attachments in a summer resort on the Gulf of Mexico. The only non-white person on view is a domestic servant, who says very little, but his one slightly longer set of remarks, towards the end, is penetrating and full of human sympathy.
The underlying theme that arouses both the laughter and the tears lies in the various personal relationships on view and in the effects of long separation brought about by, in one case particularly, war service in Europe. Several heavy drinkers are on view, and they tend to be rather casual about personal and, in particular, sexual relationships. In some of their cases matrimonial ties seem to have lost any force they may once have had.
But, so well are the roles acted that we (some of the older amongst us at any rate) feel sympathy even for people who are behaving with small consideration for others’ feelings. We have met, even, perhaps been, people like this in our time.
So, the question arises, is this a comedy? Yes, at any rate up to a point. There is verbal wit, and there are situations within the various personal relationships which will make us laugh, even if sometimes reluctantly, with a sense of guilt.
Is it, then, a tragedy?
Not quite, is probably the answer. And at least one person who seems to be being treated very badly proves in the end to have the cunning and resilience to turn the situation into one of fairly crude advantage.
But, nevertheless, when you look at the situations on display in front of you, most of these people are forced to fight to go on being as decent human beings as they want to be.
There are a few occasions when the play dips, and you mutter ‘just get on with it.’ But 4 Stars is well-earned. When all is said and done, however, this production is an opportunity that no committed theatregoer should miss. We shall not see its like again in any great hurry.
Mark Aiken: Edward Crosman
Lucy Akhurst: Rose Griggs
Madalena Alberto: Nina Denery
Sam Coulson: Frederick Ellis
Gretchen Egolf: Carrie Ellis
Mark Healy: Nick Denery
Hilary Maclean: Constance Tukerman
Tom Mannion : General Benjamin Griggs
Madeline Millar: Sophie
Susan Porrett : Mrs Mary Ellis
Salim Sai: Leon
Leonie Schleising: Hilda
Director : Anthony Biggs
Designer: Gregor Donnelly
Lighting: Tim Mascall
Sound: Tania Holland Williams