Review – The Aristocrats – Donmar Warehouse

by

It’s the mid-1970s. In a stately home in Ireland, the adult children of the home’s owner are gathered before the youngest’s wedding. One plays piano; one lies in her room recovering from a hangover; the single male member of the family makes food in the kitchen. One daughter deals with the apparently sickly father upstairs. This is The Aristocrats.

Over the course of the next two hours, bit by bit, the personalities of these people will be revealed. Two of them seem to be unhinged (the piano playing daughter – Aisling Loftus – and the solitary son – David Dawson); one of them (Elaine Cassidy) seems bent on self destruction (either by alcohol or abuse at the hands of her spouse); the last (Eileen Walsh) seems horribly practical but determined to ensure her life is a miserable despite her capabilities. The personalities are squeezed out mostly through their interactions with American researcher Tom Hoffnung (Paul Higgins), who is looking into how the Irish Catholic landed class has held up back in the home country.

While the various bits of tale telling and nonsense is going on, Uncle George (Ciaran McIntyre) is mostly sat at the back of the stage, peeling paint off of a wall. What an incredibly appropriate metaphor for my experience watching this play. While watching people lead crappy lives, lie to themselves and others, and basically flopping around failing to accomplish a damned thing might seem an appropriate topic for a painting, as a play it was just an unmitigated bore. The metaphor of rot in rich families was covered pretty definitively in Brideshead Revisited (complete with metaphor of rotting house for a rotten “house”); and while we did hit an Irish stereotypes bingo with the revelations of the final act, all and all I just felt: with The Ferryman showing us the richness of the Irish experience and the impact of the turmoil of the 70s on Irish people, just what in the world was this play adding to the mix? It was neither a new story, nor interesting. The characters were solid, but that’s just not enough to make an evening fly. At 1:15 before the interval I was shocked to discover I had not been there for the full two hours already.

Frequently the shame about Donmar shows is that they sell out so soon, and this is why I bought these tickets so far in advance. Fear not: word will get out and you, too, can go if you want, or perhaps you can join me at the back of the garden, peeling off some paint. It’ll save you the money and a precious two hours better spent doing nearly anything else.

(This review is for a preview performance that took place on August 7, 2018. It continues for quite some time.)

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