National Theatre, London
Written by Beth Steel
Directed by Bijan Sheibani
As three sisters and their families gather for Sylvia’s (the youngest of the three siblings) wedding, Beth Steel’s new play is all about the wedding day from dawn to dusk. But set in a Nottinghamshire mining village that had its heart ripped out when the pit closed, so does Steel’s narrative eviscerate the assembled extended family over its 24-hour arc.
The sisters’ mother is dead, so it is down to Lorraine Ashbourne as the wonderfully egomaniacal Aunty Carol to pass judgemental opinions across one and all. Lucy Black, Lisa McGrillis and Sinéad Matthews (as Sylvia) are all outstanding as the sisters, with Alan Williams putting in a fabulously gnarled performance as their widowered father Tony.
For the most part, the ensemble work on display here is top-notch. Steel captures simmering sexual energies, jealousies and envies with a sharper eye than Ayckbourn and as the wedding day descends into a literal and emotional bloodbath of infidelities, the protagonists’ pain is tangible, with many moments making for first-class theatre.
Bijan Sheibani directs with a sensitive perception, the story’s only flaw being its overly shallow portrayal of British bigotry towards Sylvia’s Polish husband Marek (Marc Wooton).
Samal Blak’s set design makes a neat use of the Dorfman Theatre’s revolve while Paule Constance’s lighting work deploys possibly the best use of a glitterball ever seen on a London stage.
Well worth seeing for a glimpse of the impact of de-industrialisation on England’s north.
Runs until 16th March
Photo credit:Manuel Harlan