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A CurtainUp London Review
In Celebration follows three adult sons returning home to celebrate their parentsí fortieth wedding anniversary. Their father Mr Shaw (Tim Healy) is on the verge of retirement from working in the mines and his determination that his sons will not follow him means that they are well educated and in respectable professions. Much of the play centres around the various emotional dynamics of the sons revisiting the home they have outgrown or rather been expelled from by their fatherís social ambition. There are also hints of a darker, silenced past and an unmentioned son who died in infancy. In addition, we see a snapshot of the close-knit community, as neighbours pop in to make themselves a cup of tea or prepare the fire for the family.
Closely reflecting this sense of era-specific homeliness, is the chintz dreariness of the set, designed by Lez Brotherston. Dominated by floral browns and dark greens, we see a cross-section of the whole house. One large front room spans the stage with a glimpse of the kitchen at one end and the upper level is also on view, with a sloped roof crumbled away. Although this creates the sense that within the house, the family is always in close proximity, there is no illusion that the space is cramped, no matter how many times the characters refer to it. The design tries to create a place which looks old-fashioned even to those who used to live there. At one point, one of the sons exclaims, "Itís like a museum, this is!" as he looks around his childhood home. Elaborating upon their nostalgia for a penny-pinching past, they reminisce about the piles of salt used instead of toothpaste, springs continually popping out of armchairs and the deficient chair to family-member ratio at the dinner table.
It is perhaps difficult for any cast to pronounce these sort of sentiments emotively, but Paul Hilton is one of those rare actors who can elevate any script into an engaging piece of theatre. In the part of Andrew, a former solicitor who now creates abstract art from rubbish, he is garrulous, flamboyant (the only character, for example, wearing flares) and funny but also deeply hurt by his sense of alienation from his home and heritage. Unfortunately, the rest of the cast fail to match his charisma. Orlando Bloom, who will probably account for the vast majority of ticket sales, turns out to be a bit of a nonentity onstage. Playing the taciturn Steven, he doesnít have many outstanding speeches. Instead, there ought to be silent broodiness and stifled inner anguish, but he simply does not convey these powerfully enough.
There are hints of suffering beneath a surface of contentment and tranquillity, and the characters are obviously incapable of communicating at anything other than a superficial level, but I would have liked to see the direction make more of this. Instead, the concentration on commonplace mundaneness just seems dull and muted. Lacking plot and substance, this play would have seemed flimsy were it not so wordy and protracted and the evening was enlivened only by Paul Hiltonís superb acting.
Retold by Tina Packer of Shakespeare & Co.
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