Much has been made of the fact that The Late Middle Classes is indeed late coming into the West End, having been bumped first time around in favour of Boyband The Musical (anyone actually admit to remembering that show?). Does it deserve a West End run – well possibly although this production does make a meal of it. Two year’s after Simon Gray’s death, London audiences now get to make their own mind up.
Although bookended by two modern day scenes, this is a nostalgic look at 1950s life, except that it isn’t nostalgic. Beneath the outwardly respectable middle class post-war life secrets remain unspoken and tension and unease is simmering barely below the surface.
Holly, a 12 year old boy, is taking piano lessons from an Austrian tutor. The pupil/teacher relationship is confused, with the tutor seeing holly as part playmate, part muse and potential musical maestro. There is even a hint of darker goings on but these are left ambiguous by Gray for the audience to reflect on.At least the piano lessons distract the boy from his dysfunctional parents, a demanding mother and a tormented father.
Director David Leaveaux’s piece has a gentle pace and at times seems in need of an injection of pace, yes these were more sedate times but the ever building tension needs a bit more drive.
It is a beautifully observed piece however with some excellent performances. Robert Glenister as the Viennese piano tutor excels as does Eleanor Bron as his mother, still terrified of post war repercussions. Helen McCrory also excels as Celia, the frustrated wife and mother but it is a shame that Peter Sullivan’s father Charles never matches her level. Many of Sullivan’s lines were inaudible in the circle of the tiny Donmar.
The Late Middle Classes leaves much unsaid but does give the audience plenty to think about. Perhaps it is one of these plays where more is said in the silences than in the words.