Review: The Family Reunion

By John Nathan, November 27, 2008

Donmar Warehouse, London WC2

Samuel West, Anna Cateret and Una Stubbs in The Family Reunion

Samuel West, Anna Cateret and Una Stubbs in The Family Reunion

This spooky verse drama makes for an uncertain centrepiece to the Donmar's T S Eliot festival. The play's ingredients - an English aristocratic country house; a confession of murder; even the arrival of a policeman bearing bad news - all bring to mind the pot-boiler.

And with a cast of characters that includes a recently widowed Dowager (Gemma Jones), her two sisters Agatha and Ivy (Penelope Wilton and Una Stubbs) and brother-in-laws Charles (William Gaunt) and Gerald (Paul Shelley), who is a retired colonel, you could be forgiven for thinking that the greatest (and let's not forget, antisemitic) poet of the 20th-century was inspired by a game of Cluedo.

But Eliot's intent of merging Greek myth and drama becomes clear in the central role of Harry, Lord Monchensey (Samuel West), the estate's eldest son who is haunted by the Furies and believes that he has killed his "unsuitable" wife, and with regular suspensions of reality as the cast turn into their own chorus. And even though James Herrin's production, anchored by a stellar cast, never feels at ease with the marriage, the sheer beauty of Eliot's language justifies this revival.

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Last updated: 5:00pm, November 27 2008