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A CurtainUp London Review
A Delicate Balance
Under James Macdonald's astute direction and with a fine cast of British actors on board, A Delicate Balance gets a thoroughly decent production. As a study of American families Albee's triangle is not a simple one. Tobias (Tim Pigott-Smith) lives with his wife Agnes (Penelope Wilton) and her sister Claire (Imelda Staunton). Tobias, seeming ever anxious for a quiet life, winces as Agnes derides her alcoholic sister, who has some information and insight into Tobias's past which he finds uncomfortable. They are already a demonstration of three being a bad number, but more "intruders" are to arrive and thoroughly upset the balance of this applecart.
Whilst Agnes and Tobias may be well heeled and well connected socially, they have a problematic daughter Julia (Lucy Cohu), who each time her marriage fails, bolts for home. In this play Julia has just cut and run from her fourth marriage and is due home but before she arrives, late at night Tobias's best friend Harry (Ian McElhinney) arrives with his wife Edna, Agnes' best friend (Diana Hardcastle). Curiously Harry and Edna tell of a fear that has made them leave their own home for the safety of Tobias's. Later as guests, they act as if they are in their own home much to the fury of Julia whose room they are occupying.
The advent of their best friends is the spark to the tinderbox that is this household. It is as if the "Get the guests" game from Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf has evolved into "Get the hosts"! Everyone self medicates with plenty of alcohol including the matronly Claire (except she isn't a mother) who isn't meant to touch a drop and who rolls around on the carpet after one drink too many, terrorises everyone by playing the accordion and shockingly taunts the local ladies' outfitter shop with a request for a topless bathing suit.
What isn't believable is the way in which Harry and Edna, as nicely brought up people, are completely unaware of their intrusive behaviour and why Tobias does not insist on privacy for his daughter on whom he obviously dotes. The guests seem mysteriously to be in control, not the family. Is everyone too polite or too diffident to say anything? There is a long speech from Tobias about his rejection by the cat, "she bit him, he hit her" which doesn't go down too well with the British love of animals.
There are lovely performances from all; Tim Pigott-Smith as Tobias torn between doing the right thing for his family and yet needing to be seen as supporting his friends. Penelope Wilton as Agnes, outspoken, perfectly proper yet highly vulnerable to these invading women. Julia Cohu as the half crazed daughter denied her place of refuge and the wonderful Imelda Staunton as alcoholic and unconventional Claire.
Here is a play that will reward the audience with plenty to discuss.
For links to other productions of this and Albee plays reviewed at Curtainup, see our Edward Albee Backgrounder.
Retold by Tina Packer of Shakespeare & Co.
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