This revival of David Storey's 1969 drama exactly doubles the number of straight plays by living British dramatists in the West End. Even then, one assumes it owes its life largely to Orlando Bloom's theatrical debut. It is a melancholy situation but one can report Storey's tough and sturdy play stands the test of time, and that Bloom should guarantee it a young audience.
Storey's family reunion is fraught with tension. Three sons travel up to a Yorkshire mining town to celebrate their parents' 40th wedding anniversary, and reveal their degrees of blemish. Colin, a miner's son, is now a middle-management careerist. Silently depressive Steven, a married teacher with four children, has now abandoned writing his epic social novel. But the most volatile is Andrew, who has given up the law to be an artist, and nurses a grievance over his childhood exclusion after the death of a fourth brother. What makes it a fine play is Storey's use of the specifics of family life to explore a cultural melancholy. Andrew's anger springs from the deification of a mother who, in Lawrentian terms, feels she married beneath her. But Storey is also addressing the alienation of sons educated out of their class and suffering a peculiar English mix of guilt and insecurity. Andrew's explanation for his sense of hurt may be a bit persuasive. But through Steven, Storey nails the traumatized rootless ness that comes from feeling one's life has no significance. Bloom lends Steven exactly the right sense of haunted taciturnity and withdrawn moodiness.
Paul Hilton as the bitter Andrew, however, really has to motor the action, and does so with a quivering, attenuated figure suggestive of a Wakefield Hamlet. Gareth Farr as the managerial Colin also subtly hints his life is less successful than he claims and that his impending marriage is largely a career tactic. Tim Healy as the father, obstinately refusing to retire after nearly half a century down a pit, conveys the right mix of pride and puzzlement at his bewildering offspring. Although Dearbhla Molloy's accent occasionally slips, she suggests the mother's faint sense of detachment from the family she has none too harmoniously nurtured. The result is a richly satisfying evening that reminds you of Storey's ability to confront unpalatable domestic truths and to portray an England in which class is still a governing determinant.
In Celebration first ran almost 40 years ago at London's Royal Court with Alan Bates and Brian Cox among the cast. The play follows the Yorkshire homecoming of three brothers, now settled in the south, for their parents' 40th wedding anniversary. The occasion is soon frayed as the cracks show in the sons' personal and professional lives. Billington believed the play stands the test of time. The Whingers believe Storey's play exists in a time capsule that makes it very difficult to see as anything other than a period piece, and drew a parallel with the recent revival of another Royal Court classic, The Entertainer.
While applauding the return of drama to the West End, several critics complained that the play just wasn't, well, dramatic enough. Rhoda Koenig respected Storey's intention to write a drama as inconclusive and wayward as life but felt that the result lacks the tension and unease that one might expect. The Evening Standard's Nicholas de Jongh called Storey a master of allusiveness: his characters avoid dramatic clashes, conflicts and revelations. And what of Bloom's debut? He might look bad but his performance was proclaimed by the masses. De Jongh deemed that the heartthrob's sexual charisma and androgynous prettiness before the camera vanishes clean away on the stage's more distant perspective.
More than one critic commented on the red-carpet fervor that has crept inside the Duke of York's auditorium. In his Daily Mail blog, Baz Bamigboye lamented the fact that Bloom's stage entrance was met with the flash of mobile phones and delighted shrieks, but the star's celebrity status is surely bound to bring full houses for a playwright that Benedict Nightingale believes to be scandalously neglected by the theatres he once illumined.
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