THE LATE MIDDLE CLASSES
by Simon Gray.
Donmar Warehouse 41 Earlham Street WC2H 9LX To 17 July 2010.
Mon-Sat 7.30pm Mat Thu & Sat 2.30pm.
Audio-described 3 July 2.30pm (+Touch Tour 1.30pm).
BSL Signed 8 July 7.30pm.
Captioned 1 July 7.30pm.
Runs 2hr 30min One interval.
TICKETS: 0844 871 7624.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 3 June.
Late recognition for a play that comes into its own.
When the late Simon Gray’s play emerged eleven years ago it was attacked by critics, who must have left at the interval. For, despite diverting moments, the first act is an overlong elaboration of a familiar view of sexual embarrassment in a mid-century still hooked-up to the war with rationing and middle-class dismay at Churchill’s non-return to power, and with no sign of the irritation that would grow-up to be The Sixties.
But the second act shows the explosive force when sex is acknowledged. A marriage not all it seemed, the possibility of something sinister in a music-teacher’s relationship with a pupil – a conclusion jumped-to today before the situation’s stated, but then unthinkable so long as surfaces were seemly.
Gray uses the formal, polite name for Holly’s piano-teacher (it’s also the name of Oliver Twist’s saviour) and whatever designs he has on the pre-teen boy, the unease Holly’s parents feel at Mr Brownlow is attributed – within a few years of the Nuremberg trials – to his possibly being Jewish.
Plot points are precisely placed, and there are shafts of Gray’s killer-wit. In David Leveaux’s atmospherically sustained production adult behaviour is sharply-etched, especially Helen McCrory as Holly’s mother, living on the nerves of someone with no education to channel her intelligence, feigning death to get attention, demanding declarations of love from her son, face made-up in period style under hairstyling that clearly demands more than Isle of Wight society, as she searches for fresh eggs and the means to return to London.
Her frustration contrasts the sense of loss and making-do of Ellie, in Brownlow’s mid-European household, Eleanor Bron lending the old lady a melancholy content and innocence in her own dislocation and memories of Austria. Robert Glenister is aptly suspect yet respectable, while Peter Sullivan’s upright, shockable doctor-dad contrasts his grown-up Holly of the present-day outer scenes, both sharing a reticence that implies why Holly put the world between his childhood and adult lives.
Felix Zadek-Ewing, one of three young Hollys, catches politeness and secrecy, while Corin Buckeridge’s score for Brownlow’s music admirably suggests a conservative mind influenced by the serialists.
Mr Brownlow: Robert Glenister.
Celia: Helen Mcrory.
Charles: Peter Sullivan.
Ellie: Eleanor Bron.
Holly: Harvey Allpress/Laurence Belcher/Felix Zadek-Ewing.
Director: David Leveaux.
Designer: Mike Britton.
Lighting: High Vanstone.
Sound: Simon Baker for Autograph.
Composer: Corin Buckeridge.
Assistant director: Titaa Halder.