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Living Quarters

Brian Friel
Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh
(2006)

Promotional photo

After thirty years one needs to question whether or not there was any need to bring Brian Friel's play Living Quarters to the UK. Frankly in the mind of this reviewer it would have been better served to have left in ignominy.

Taking his cues from Euripides and trying to weave a modernisation from the myth of Phaedre and Hippolytus is a worthy enough goal, but will only succeed if the story in some ways manages to match the depth and resonance of the original. Friel's play takes the basic motif of the illicit affair between errant son and lonely stepmother and paints an image of a discordant family re-uniting to celebrate their soldier-father's return from war in far-off lands. In this case the return is to Ireland and the war consists of United Nations peacekeeping. However the use of the mythology ends there, with the focus instead upon the family's old recriminations and angers coming out.

The staging of the play is typically of a high level, and the props and rotating stage are built with a flair and polish that has come to be expected from the Lyceum. Likewise, the cast have done their utmost to wring every scrap of characterisation and realism out of the family group and their idle conversations with each other but their good work can only go so far to combat the fundamental problem with the piece: the narrative simply meanders ploddingly towards a limp finale which fails utterly to satisfy, or bring meaning out of what has come before.

To further confuse matters, the play has a slightly ethereal setting as the audience is told by a narrator referred to only as 'Sir', that all we see is simply a re-enactment from the information in a ledger. While this device could easily have added much to the narrative, it instead is under-used and causes more problems than it solves. Thus the entire play is caught between trying to tell a tale and form some sort of existential criticism on the unalterable nature of regret, with neither being accomplished properly.

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Reviewer: Graeme Strachan