A Delicate Balance - Theatre Royal Haymarket 1977

Saturday, 1 November, 1997

With Maggie Smith and Eileen Atkins in the cast, this production has quality written all over it and it sure does live up to expectations!

The play takes place in a country house in Connecticut and covers a period of three days. This is a play with a delicate balance between madness and sanity.

The drama concerns Agnes, who is married to Tobias. They have been married many years and now sleep in separate bedrooms. Living with them is Claire, Agnes's sister, who is an alcoholic. The two sisters do not get on, and are constantly antagonistic towards each other. However, Tobias cares for both of them and tries to keep the peace. Problems increase when best friends, Edna and Harry, turn up unannounced and ask to stay the night and then go on to ask if they could live with them permanently. Apparently, they are too afraid to stay at their own house, for reasons unknown! Then to make matters worse, Agnes and Tobias's daughter, Julia, turns up after leaving her fourth husband and becomes very hostile towards Edna and Harry, because they are sleeping in her old room. So the scene is set for some very bizarre scenes and conversations, scripted brilliantly by Edward Albee.

You have to concentrate very carefully on what is being said or you could miss some very important dialogue, which is critical if you are to make head or tail of what Albee is trying to get over in this story. Are we all in search of a close relationship and the need to be loved, if so how far are we prepared to go to get it? What sacrifices are we prepared to make? To the state of losing one's mind? These are the questions I thought the play was asking, but I'm sure some will have seen it differently! Which shows what a complex drama this really is.

The acting is superb by all and at its very best. Maggie Smith (Claire) is the champion of course, playing a drunk who won't admit to being an alcoholic. It is worth the ticket price just to see her perform. However, on this occasion she is matched by Eileen Atkins, who puts in a gripping and stunning performance as 'Agnes', who tries to keep the family together and "…in shape" as well as trying to understand her friends' problems. Maggie Smith and Eileen Atkins light up the stage and provide some great theatre highlights, particularly when bantering insults to each other. The rest of the cast, although, overshadowed by these two great actors, are also very convincing and perfect for the parts. There is John Standing as 'Tobias', the understanding and patient husband. There is Annette Crosbie and James Laurenson as 'Edna' and ' Harry', a strange and mysterious couple. Finally, Sian Thomas as ' Julia', who is an insecure woman and a failure in marriage. The fact is, this is one of the most perfectly cast plays I have seen and it certainly needed such a cast for it to work so successfully.

'A Delicate Balance' has received rave reviews from the popular press with nearly all of them agreeing what great drama it is (That makes a change). NICHOLAS DE JONGH of THE EVENING STANDARD described the play as " One of the most disturbing dark comedies of our time. " ROBERT HEWISON of THE SUNDAY TIMES say it is a "Rolls-Royce production" and goes on to say, " You may never see such an ensemble of fine actors again." PETER HEPPLE of THE STAGE mirrors the same thoughts saying that the director probably drew from the cast the best performances of their respective careers. BILLL HAGERTY of THE NEWS OF THE WORLD says, " It's an odds-on runaway success." JANE EDWARDS of TIME OUT describes Maggie Smith's performance as " Compellingly watchable" and describes Eileen Atkins as "Outstanding".

Although the ending of the play is a bit of a let down, it is nevertheless a must see production. Drama like this is not to be missed at any price. Give yourself a treat and see theatre at its best.

(Darren Dalglish)

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