Off to the National with Eleanor on Tuesday to see a disappointing version of Alan Ayckbourn's Seasons Greetings. Hard to put a finger on what exactly was wrong with it - it's a wonderfully painful cringe of a script, a perfect cast and a beautifully designed set - but something seemed to be amiss.
Perhaps it's the wrong combination of director and material? Marianne Elliot has done some really cracking and inventive work in the Olivier over the last few years, which has elevated her into the pantheon of rare directors, able to make sense of that space. Here faced with a revival of a more recent play in the proscenium arch of the Lyttelton, the direction seemed almost too reverential, with a Chekhovian attention to nuance bringing an over complicated humanity to the characters rather than allowing their monstrous pettiness its full rein in two clear dimensions. Maybe it's just the sheer scale of the set, which slows up exits, entrances and often destroys any sense of surprise? Hard to get a laugh when you see it coming twenty seconds in advance.
The result is we're asked to look at the play from an almost sociological perspective, seeing from afar how the actions of one character affect the others. This works well in Shakespeare and Brecht, but seems very out of place in a in a visceral dark comedy designed to make us squirm in our seats. Ayckbourn is a great writer but we have to be up close and personal in order that we sense our own convoluted desires and pretensions in the twisted cartoon psychology of characters desperate to pretend they have common understanding and the ability to hold it together.