Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh, until Sat 17 Nov
Anyone who has lived beyond a certain age may be confronted with memories of decisions taken in earlier life that are destined to haunt them, and be they something done to another or to oneself, they will often pursue a person to the grave. In this UK premiere of Brian Friel’s 1977 “memory” play the author returns to this theme, explored most successfully in Dancing at Lughnasa
In Living Quarters, we see the return of commandant Frank Butler (Ron Donachie), a career Irish soldier, whose heroism on a UN mission in the Middle East has brought him a hero’s welcome. But the ballyhoo can’t drown out family tensions. His much younger wife Anna (Katie McGuinness), abandoned before their honeymoon has, it emerges, had an affair with Frank’s disaffected, unsettled son from his previous marriage (Ifan Meredith). Meanwhile, his daughters (Irene Allan, Niamh McCann and Kim Gerard), have troubles of their own, inherited from a sometimes emotionally choked family history.
John Dove’s production makes some good decisions in a play about decisions - why we make them and how we regret them. The elaborate but pleasing Donegal village home set by Michael Taylor, is very easy on the eye. The device of a suited narrator (Stuart McGugan) works reasonably well and is intended, it seems, to resemble a host of This is Your Life complete with ledger, representing an objective truth amidst the characters’ rationalised memories of the events of the play. But the final revelation, which sets off the play’s tragic denouement, seems cruel beyond anything the play prepares us for. The performances though, are generally strong, with Donachie’s emotionally attenuated old soldier a good nourishing watch, while Gary Lilburn’s drunken family friend, an army officer, chaplain and throwback to Chekov, makes plenty of comic hay while the sun, briefly, shines. Quite whether the play is all it should be is a moot point, yet this is an accomplished and entertaining production.