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Theatre Review: The Lyons - Menier Chocolate Factory ✭✭✭

The Lyons
l-r Ben (Nicholas Day), Lisa (Charlotte Randle) and Rita (Isla Blair)
Photo by Nobby Clarke
 Menier Chocolate Factory
Review by Emma Curry

Ah, families. Each one has their quirks, but – as in the case of the Lyons of this play – some have more than others. Nicky Silver’s latest brash and brittle comedy takes on the startling hidden resentments and long-held grudges between the members of a spectacularly dysfunctional family, which are unleashed by the terminal illness of patriarch Ben.

The action takes place within his hospital room, as the grumpy and foul-mouthed Ben (Nicholas Day) tries to push away his overbearing family so he can enjoy his last few moments in peace. His wife Rita (a fantastic Isla Blair) is impervious to his insults, breezily informing him to ‘stay positive’, whilst casually considering how she’ll redecorate the house when he’s gone. Add in to the mix Ben’s daughter Lisa (Charlotte Randle), an alcoholic single mother struggling with the return of her abusive partner, and son Curtis (Tom Ellis), a short story writer with a penchant for inventing imaginary boyfriends, and you’ve got a recipe for one of the more volatile deathbed scenarios I’ve seen in a while.

Curtis (Tom Ellis)
Photo by Nobby Clarke
The cast all relish the quick-fire and frequently sweary dialogue: Nicolas Day in particular gives a brilliant performance as the long-suffering father who just wants everyone to leave him alone, and Isla Blair is compelling and nuanced as his wife, pushing her children away and seizing the chance of a new life away from past misery. Tom Ellis is also fantastic, inciting initial dislike and later sympathy as he subtly uncovers fragments of his unhappy childhood and later inability to form successful relationships with others. The unlikely friend he makes at the end of the play made for a truly poignant moment.  

However, on the journey home I was left with a rather uneasy feeling, and struggled to put my finger on what it was that I hadn’t fully enjoyed in watching this play. As mentioned above, the actors were all marvellous, and the set-up fresh and compelling. At times I struggled to engage fully with characters who repeatedly behaved so unpleasantly to one another. I also think it might have been a case of both over- and under-bite within the writing: I found certain parts black and bleak without necessarily being humorously so, whilst other parts seemed afraid to push things as far as they could have gone.

Perhaps it was just me – the audience around me found many of Ben and Rita’s barbed and expletive-ridden exchanges in particular hilarious. But having seen this and Barking in Essex within the last two weeks, the concept of swearing as a comedic trope is beginning to leave me cold. It’s not sufficiently funny in itself to have someone saying ‘f***’ or ‘c***’. There’s the gleeful shocked giggle it elicits the first time it is used, granted, but after that, it just becomes a little repetitive. Perhaps I wouldn’t have noticed this so much if, as mentioned, I hadn’t seen two plays that deployed the tactic in quick succession, but even so, I was hoping for something less reductive in this rich, blackly comic set-up.

Nevertheless, I’d still recommend this show for the fantastic performances from the cast, and the ever-brilliant surroundings of the Menier Chocolate Factory, one of my favourite venues in London. If you’ve got a family member in hospital at the moment, however, it might be best to avoid!

Three stars ✭✭✭

LISTINGS INFORMATION:

Venue: Menier Chocolate Factory
Dates: 19th September – 16th November 2013
Time: Tuesday – Saturday 8pm / Saturday & Sunday matinees 3.30pm
Tickets: £25 - £37.50 (please see below)

Ticket Pricing:
The Chocolate Factory offers a range of ticket prices, from discounted preview tickets to
Premier seats, with the emphasis on ‘The sooner you book, the better the price’

Book from 19th September - valid all performances*
Standard reserved tickets £31.00 / Meal Deals £39.00 / Premium Seats £35.00/
Concessions & Groups 8+ £27.50

*reduced price preview tickets will still be available at £25 / £30 / £33 for performances 19th - 25th September – subject to availability

A meal deal ticket includes a 2-course meal from the pre-theatre menu in the Chocolate Factory Restaurant as well as the theatre ticket

Box Office: 020 7378 1713 (£2 transaction fee per booking)
Website: www.menierchocolatefactory.com (£1 transaction fee per booking)
Address: 53 Southwark Street, London SE1 1RU
Restaurant: 020 7234 9610
Transport: London Bridge Tube, Borough High Street exit RV1 and 381 buses


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