Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh
There are only seven classic stories for writers to work with.
Arriving onstage the same weekend as The Citizens Theatre revisits Eugene O’Neill’s Desire Under The Elms, the classical comparisons with Brian Friel’s 1977 play are obvious.
Where O’Neill’s patriarch returning to the familial bosom with a young wife is a New England entrepreneur, Friel casts him here as United Nations soldier Frank, back from the Middle East after saving nine of his men’s lives.
With Frank’s wife Anne having embarked on an affair with his son Ben and his three daughters all but confined to domestic barracks, while Frank can be heroic on a global scale, at home a far greater peace keeping force is required.
While Friel writes about families with a Chekhovian beauty, something director John Dove teases out of his cast with a delicately realised set of tensions between the sisters.
What is most fascinating about a work surprisingly receiving its UK premiere is its structure.
Friel transplants into the action a figure simply called Sir, who becomes the play’s narrator, director, chorus and ultimately its conscience.
It’s a device which, as with the story, consciously looks back to the Greeks, but here resembles something somewhere between Arthur Miller and Pirandello.
Played with pukkah relish by Stuart McGugan, Sir interacts with his characters, who gather to recreate their downfall as if to observe their own mistakes.
No matter how much Ron Donachie’s Frank may protest, though, it’s impossible to prevent the tragedy which follows.
While Dove accentuates the play’s elegance, he also taps into the serious fun to be had from the central artifice of a quietly radical take on human folly.
The Herald, October 29th 2007