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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  London Theatre Reviews

at the Royal Court Jerwood Theatre Upstairs

By Matt Wolf

The Royal Court's International Playwrights season throws up its second successive stunner with this double-bill of plays from Scandinavia and Russia, respectively, each of which shows a family cheerfully oblivious to the catastrophes that mark out all too many lives. Joakim Pirinen is a Swedish-Finnish writer in his 40s and clearly a talent to be reckoned with on the basis of the opening play of the pair, The Good Family, a portrait of domestic happiness and cheer at their most intense. Imagine a household in which a son races to do the dishes or in which a father pauses before eating a right royal roast of a dinner to proffer a rose to his adoring spouse.

Such gestures are just the tip of the sunniest possible iceberg in a landscape where even the luscious lawn is doing its bit in nature to ensure that everything is just swell. Daughter Lena (Daisy Lewis) is happily dating the best friend of older brother Janne (Harry Lloyd), whose own coming out as gay prompts nothing but jubilation from his infinitely loving parents. (It surely helps that the boy's lover has hair, we're told, like burnished gold. ) While Samantha Spiro's Eva, the mother, offers enraptured paeans to her sunshine saints, father Lasse (a beaming Jeremy Swift) exults in good luck that extends as far as the bread and butter he's dropped on the floor. Misfortune and envy clearly don't exist in a household that is arrayed for us across the studio space of the Royal Court Jerwood Theatre Upstairs in such a way that a usually intimate space seems uncharacteristically capacious. (The ace designer here is Ultz.) All the more room, therefore, for exuberant backflips from Lena or the professed joyousness of the parents' various work environments to take root among the audience. Surely Pirinen, as heard in Gregory Motton's ceaselessly droll version, is sending up the sort of uncritically blissed-out response to life we more commonly associate with TV commercials for detergent, in which the putting to rights of a stain is regarded as an all but cosmic victory. (The father's mention of eight unlimited credit cards acquired in one day tips us off to the satiric intent.) But for all that The Good Family functions as keen critique, it subversively invites us into the same problem-free habitation that it goes to such extremes to describe. At play's end, you emerge after 35 minutes wondering whether life really isn't beautiful, after all? Or, if not, why do so many dramatists insist on spoiling the party?

It's one thing to pursue a path of unparalleled enthusiasms. It's another not to face the facts of a grim age marked out by 9 /11 and the disaster at Chernobyl, to name two of the modern-day cataclysms specifically cited in The Khomenko Family Chronicles. The Kiev-born Natalia Vorozhbit's play in Sasha Dugdale's eloquent translation follows the intermission and is barely ten-minutes long and yet possesses the lingering affect of a great short story. Spiro and Swift return, this time as the squabbling parents of a young son (played by an astonishing 12-year-old named Lewis Lempereur-Palmer) with a second child on the way. As we encounter the trio, mom and dad are sitting either side of a hospital bed containing the ailing Lyosha, who has been in and out of the hospital for three years. A victim of radioactive rain from Chernobyl, Lyosha clocks the facts of such tragedies, the falling of the Twin Towers included, divorced from anything resembling an awareness of their import or severity. That much is to be expected given a boozy father who reports asking to re-marry the boy's mother on 9/11, since she would never turn him down on a day like today, and who recalls that t


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