The Family Reunion

Posted on: 08 December 2008 by Gareth Hargreaves

A poetic and powerful tale of sin and redemption reveals a family haunted by ghosts of the past in T.S. Eliot’s The Family Reunion.

The new production, directed by Jeremy Herrin at the Donmar Warehouse in Covent Garden, is marking the centrepiece of a landmark festival celebrating one of the greatest literary figures of the 20th century.

After eight years absence the eldest son, Harry, returns to the ancestral home to celebrate his mother Amy’s birthday.  Tormented by a dark secret - that he murdered his wife by pushing her overboard on a cruise ship - he confides in Aunt Agatha only to discover the family too has its own hidden demons.

This work is one of the few verse plays to have survived in performance from a period when drama by Eliot, Christopher Fry, Ronald Duncan and others commanded substantial audiences before, the story goes, being swept away by John Osborne’s Look Back in Anger

It certainly is a strange piece, combining elements of a conventional country house thriller with Greek tragedy when the cast are suddenly transformed into a Greek chorus, poetry and satire.  The play’s dramatic life springs from its climate of ritual extremity, as members of a privileged class find that their drawing room opens onto eternity, death and judgement while heaven and hell are actually at hand.

Staging the play today certainly represents a challenge for any director but Jeremy Herrin pulls it off by keeping it firmly anchored in reality.  To this extent he is helped by fine performances from a top class cast, most notably Samuel West as Harry, Gemma Jones as his indomitable mother Amy, and Penelope Wilton as Aunt Agatha, all of whom succeed in bringing their characters fully to life avoiding any trace of caricature.

Eliot’s vision of desolation and disintegration provides fresh food for thought in this absorbing 2 ¾ hour drama.

By Laurence Green

Plays until 10th January 2009.

Booking Information

Box office: 0870 060 6624 or: venue website.

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