by Nicky Silver.
Menier Chocolate Factory 53 Southwark Street SE1 1RU To 16 November 2013.
Tue-Sat 8pm Mat Sat & Sun 3.30pm.
Runs 1hr 55min One interval.
TICKETS: 020 7378 1713.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 1 October.
Unhappy family finding ways to separate development.
In the 1950s the BBC broadcast a sitcom called Life with the Lyons. British-made, it starred England-based American actor Ben Lyon and his wife Bebe Daniels. Their children Richard and Barbara also featured and the piece, while not autobiographical, had its roots in real-life events. In 1973 Al Stewart’s lyric recalled a cosy experience, “locked up safe and warm from the snow/With Life with the Lyons on the radio.”
The Lyons in Nicky Silver’s 2011 play have the same nuclear structure, but make a dysfunctional contrast. It’s mostly set in a hospital room, where father Ben is dying of cancer, a source of offhand humour, and, for him, an end to wife Rita’s ceaseless brashness. Cheerful daughter Lisa’s an alcoholic – recovering but interested whether there’s any drink around. Ben hates his son, self-renamed Curtis, for being gay.
Not that Curtis is happy after a central scene elsewhere which lands him injured in the same hospital bed. Mother’s fleeing the nest she was so assiduously planning to redecorate at the opening, money’s an issue and Curtis’s rebellion over hospital food is under threat. Finally, both younger generation members find tentative short-term consolation in an insistent nurse and an, unseen, dying patient.
Silver makes laughter out of foul language from respectable mouths, and from the isolation of these characters within the family. Nicholas Day pinpoints the pain of illness and the separate agony of his visitors through various shades of drawn facial features between bouts of obscenity. Only in a post-death moment does he calmly return to say things are OK wherever he is now.
Isla Blair and Charlotte Randle create contrasting pictures of self-absorption, Rita flicking through a glossy mag, Lisa smiling cheerily, unaware of how others feel, while Tom Ellis give s physical energy to Curtis’s dissatisfactions. Ben Aldridge is suitably sleek and surprising as an acting real-estate agent, and Katy Secombe remains professionally in charge whatever her patients say.
Expert in production, it’s often funny, sometimes hilarious, on occasions quite thoughtful but comes to seem like extended sketches that rarely take us deeper into the characters as initially established.
Ben Lyons: Nicholas Day.
Rita Lyons: Isla Blair.
Lisa Lyons: Charlotte Randle.
Curtis Lyons: Tom Ellis.
Nurse: Katy Secombe.
Brian: Ben Aldridge.
Director: Mark Brokaw.
Designer/Costume: Jonathan Fensom.
Lighting: Jason Taylor.
Sound: Gregory Clarke.
Dialect coach: Rick Lipton.
Fight director: Terry King.
Assistant director: Mariano Detry.