“Even contempt is a connection”. Nicky Silver’s new play, The Lyons, puts an estranged and fighting family in a confined hospital room and watches as their relationships deteriorate. All members of the family reveal their desperation for a connection – with a sponsor, with a boyfriend, with each other – and how much a family can hurt each other.
Ben Lyons (Nicholas Day) is dying. His wife, Rita, played by Isla Blair, flips through a magazine, imaging how she can finally redecorate the living room, now that Ben will never be back there. Their children, the alcoholic Lisa (Charlotte Randle) and homosexual Curtis (Tom Ellis), bring their frustrations, childhood issues, and self-delusions with them into the room as they come to terms with their father’s impending death. All the while, the nice but perhaps not actually so nice, nurse, played wonderfully by Katy Secombe, wanders in and out, refusing to play the part of all knowing wisdom.
The humor feels intended for an older crowd – the jokes about dying and the stereotypes and perceptions of homosexuality feel older. In fact, the audience surrounding me was in general a good twenty years older than me. I still appreciate the humor, but I could tell from the laughter that the play really resonated with the older men.
The play as written seems quite good – the dialogue especially is superb. It is poignant and funny. The problem with this rendition of The Lyons comes not from the script but from the direction. Mark Brokaw directed The Lyons and it comes across as very forced. When he allows the actors to be quiet, to have silences or speak in normal tones, the moments work beautifully, especially the quiet snark of Nicholas Day and Tom Ellis. Unfortunately, most of the play is shouted. Lisa storms into the room screaming and it does not stop for the next two hours. Because of this, the moments that could have been shouted and big fall short and are not as effective.
The staging of the piece reflects this too – Rita never once faces Ben when she talks to him. Her emotional monologue at the end of the first act is made cold and unnatural, despite the believable acting, because she performs the entire speech facing the audience dead on. When the humor falls short, the direction seems to be a contributing factor too. It is played very tongue in cheek, like the actors are winking at the audience when saying a particular line. It is clear that the line itself is funny, but the delivery does not let it live up to its potential.
Again, this is only an occasional problem. Otherwise, when the actors bring down their volume and speak to each other, not the audience, the humor is spot on, as are the emotions. The concept of letting your childhood demons be an excuse for your own failings, that fear of intimacy and the imperfections of real people can make you deny yourself a human connection are very personal and very relatable ideas. When the plays speak for itself and is not shouted at the audience, The Lyons becomes an enjoyable and revealing look at the human condition and our need to be with people who make us happy.