Thursday 11 December 2008

The Family Reunion

Yesterday evening I was in London, possibly the first time I've gone up 'for the evening' in a cosmopolitan sort of way, to see 'The Family Reunion' by T. S. Eliot. It's being performed at the Donmar Warehouse Theatre, which is in a very nice little area of London called Seven Dials. Agatha Christie aficianadoes - I'm looking at you, Colin - might be able to tell me if there's any connection with The Seven Dials Mystery? If I ever had to live in London, that's where I'd like to live. I imagine a day's rent is more than I could earn in a year.

Why did I wan
t to see the play? No literary reasons at all, I'm afraid - it was the cast. Does that make me strange? Mel suggests it does. But no matter - it was quite an exceptional line-up: Penelope Wilton, Sam West, Gemma Jones, Una Stubbs. I daresay the others deserve their names in lights, but it was for these four (in that order) that I was excited. Most especially Penelope Wilton - in fact, I found the play by Googling her name. She's wonderful in Iris and Calendar Girls and Pride and Prejudice and everything, probably, but the main reason I wanted to see her was because of The Borrowers. This was one of the programmes we grew up watching, and it felt surreal to have one of the stars mere feet away from me. Even more surreal when Homily Clock (aka Penelope Wilton) started having a conversation with Prince Caspian (aka Sam West).

I should probably mention the play itself... a mother and aunts and uncles are gathered for the homecoming of Harry, who hasn't been to their grand house for eight years. In the interrim Something Has Happened to him, involving his much disliked wife, and it's had all sorts of effects on Harry. That's about as much concrete plot as I could grasp - much of the play focuses on the relations between relatives and mindsets, and leads into a curious philosophical staging which might be summed up as 'there's more to life than there seems'. I don't know if T.S. Eliot was a Christian when he wrote 'The Family Reunion', but it seems very much the work of someone who is starting on the path - realises there is more to life than meets the eye, and wants to explore it. Occasional bursts of humour, mostly provided by Una Stubbs, and some rather creepy boy apparitions (who at one point appear behind a door in an instant; no idea how they did that), and another effect which I found wonderful. Quite often four members of the cast would suddenly move together and speak in unison, Greek Chorus-like, revealing their shared psychologies. Could have been affected, but instead worked very well.

This might all have been a bit of a babble: difficult to make plain what I thought about such a complex play. I must read it. I'll finish, instead, with some more celebrity-spotting - we were followed into the theatre by Celia Imrie! (Maybe there to see Calendar Girls co-star Penelope Wilton?)


  1. Yes it is the same seven dials as in Agatha Christie. And posh it may be now but in Victorian times it was London's worst slum!

  2. Boo hiss! You know how jealous I am already, so I won't go on about it!
    To my mind you are not at all strange choosing a play because of it's cast. Personally I'd go to see Judi Dench read out the telephone directory!
    It's always such a treat to get to see these people on stage - like the idea of Homily Clock talking to Prince Caspian - I would imagine she would have talked much sense! (Although I have an image of Harriet Jones bringing Mr Elliot to task ... I think I need a lie down!)

  3. I'm jealous too - I love Sam West -he'll always be Leonard Bast to me - and would love to see him on stage.

  4. Don't miss the Whingers take on it Simon!

  5. Wow, Lynne, they weren't fans, were they?! Amusingly, Eliot anticipated their response and foisted it all onto one of the characters, who is forever saying "I don't understand a word of what's going on." Neither did I, sometimes, but I still loved it. If you get a chance, go and try it, Lynne - might be your cup of tea.

  6. well it's not the kind of thing you can watch with half of your brain swtiched off. I guess if they went with the expectation of paying as much attention as you would to an evening of X Factor, they'd have been disappointed.
    Might I add "had an in depth conversation with Celia Imrie in the toilets"?... well... maybe not in depth...

  7. I've got a ticket to see this a week tomorrow. And I'm not going to read the Whingers because I love Eliot and I've waited a long time to see a production of this play!


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