The Living Room

Graham Greene

Primavera

Jermyn Street Theatre

From 05 March 2013 to 30 March 2013

Review by Philip Fisher

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Graham Greene is obviously legendary as a novelist, who turned his hand to factual works and screenwriting. His stage work is rarely seen these days and, astonishingly, this is the first major London revival of The Living Room in 60 years since it opened with the young Dorothy Tutin in the lead.

Tom Littler for Primavera has hand-picked a cast designed to show it off in the finest fashion and they all deliver.

The central figure is Rose, played by very accomplished stage debutante Tuppence Middleton, a lady already well known to film and TV fans. Orphaned a year before ceasing to be a child, the 20-year-old is a mass of contradictions.

Billeted on a trio of ageing, unworldly relatives whose lives are governed by deep religious belief, she has other ideas. Having lost her mother, the tall youngster is brought to meet the dotty old folks by an old family friend and executor, a married psychology professor over twice her age.

Christopher Villiers plays Michael Dennis, who also happens to be Rose's new lover, and, as we are so often told, love is blind. In this case, though, so is religious fundamentalism, as represented in painfully undiluted form by Diane Fletcher's domineering Aunt Helen.

Her small-mindedness is predictable but the mendacity bordering on wickedness used to achieve the church's perceived goals is something more troubling in a devout Catholic.

The lady's excesses have to be watered down by her bathchair-bound brother and priestly father, played with calm realism by Christopher Timothy. In true Graham Greene fashion, Father James Browne is slowly losing his religion as surely as he lost movement in his legs following a car crash 20 years before.

The other great aunt, Teresa, is suffering from odd manifestations of extreme old age but in Caroline Blakiston's sure hands hides a depth of mature wisdom behind what looked suspiciously like a second infancy.

Much of The Living Room is taken up by anguished debate balancing the merits of psychology and religion or, expressed differently, reason and faith.

The dramatic action is somewhat limited until the arrival of Michael's wife, played with a combination of hysteria and dignity by Emma Davies.

Her intercession brings simmering matters to the boil and they almost instantly overflow with consequences that change the whole tone of the evening.

Graham Greene injects a heavy weight of symbolism on to his play, such that its title takes on a double meaning, contrasting living with death.

The author's main aim appears to be to play out some of his own uncertainties in a cathartic expression of pain and confusion. This is generally engrossing if rather wordy although, for most the play's duration, a little short on action.

Tom Littler has done a fine job with this revival aided by the kind of cast that would do it justice if ever a transfer to a larger West End house was contemplated.