Walk into an old house and someone is bound to say “Oh, if only these walls could talk”. So much happens over the course of the lifetime in a house that there are always going to be stories and secrets hidden in its history. This is probably even truer if the same family has inhabited that property for half a century or more. Thus then, we have the backdrop for Kevin Elyot’s final play, Twilight Song which is receiving its world premiere at the Park Theatre.
In a North London Victorian Villa, the owner Barry (Paul Higgins) is showing a local estate agent Skinner (Adam Garcia) around. Barry has recently retired and is looking at getting a valuation whilst his mother Isabella (Bryony Hannah) is at an appointment in Dunstable. The two men chat and discuss the financial state of the world and, particularly Skinner’s rather unusual way of making a bit of extra money. A method that appeals to Barry, a lot.
We now go back to 1961 and Isabella along with husband Basil (Paul Higgins) have just moved into the house, thanks in no small part to uncle Charles (Hugh Ross) who has helped with the necessary readies. The three of them are going out for dinner tonight along with family friend Harry (Philip Bretherton). As they are getting ready, they admire the work being done outside by the handsome gardener (Adam Garcia) Harry found for them. Whilst Isabella and Basil go to finish getting their things on, Charles and Harry talk in the sitting room. They are obviously old friends who have shared many things together over the years. The friendship is, however, getting strained and Charles doesn’t really understand why. Could it be Harry’s son Monty, or is it the influence of something more sinister that has caused the dynamic to change?
Forward now to 1967 and a pregnant Isabella has just broken some unexpected news to her husband. Isabella is waiting for a reaction from Basil but none is forthcoming when the doorbell rings and Charles comes in. He too has upsetting news and is seeking solace from Isabella, and the two of them hug as they try to make sense of their lives.
I do quite like time travel plays, where you start with now and then go back to see how you got to that point. In that respect, Twilight Song works very well, as we see how a gardener hearing a nightingale in 1961 changes the course of everyone’s life and still has repercussions over fifty years later. There is a lot of laughter, particularly in the first scene with Barry and Skinner, and a great deal of innuendo and subtext throughout the writing which means the audience have to be concentrating throughout the roughly 75 minutes run. However, I did find much of the conversation to be rather stilted in a rather old fashioned British way reminiscent of a 1950s Ealing Studios melodrama. This was fine in the scenes set in the sixties when I assume the English middle classes still talked in that fashion but didn’t feel quite right in the ‘modern day’ scenes.
The cast were really good throughout and I was very impressed with Bryony Hannah as Isabella who changed both physically and vocally between 1961 and now. James Cotterill’s set worked nicely and Director Anthony Banks kept things moving, with the scene changes being accompanied by some great music. Actually, on sound Ben and Max Ringham should be applauded for not only getting strange sounds – like the fridge on the fritz – right, but also in the right place in the theatre, no mean feat.
Overall, though I found I didn’t really connect with any of the characters. Everyone’s experience of life is difference but as a formerly extremely well closeted gay man myself, I didn’t really find the various gay men that believable I’m afraid. The overall story was interesting from a historical perspective but it just wasn’t my thing. I’ve not seen any of Kevin Elyot’s other plays so can’t really say if this is a good example of his writing or not. For me, overall it didn’t work but if you are a fan of of the writer, then Twilight Song should really be on your list to go and see.
Review by Terry Eastham
Set on summer evenings in the 1960s and the present day, Twilight Song traces one family’s hidden liaisons over half a century.
2017. Barry is single, middle-aged and gay. He and his mother Isabella’s relationship is fraught, yet after more than 50 years they cannot live apart. 1967. Barry is starting school, Isabella is pregnant again, and parliament passes a law of liberation.
A mysterious stranger turns up in their past and their present – could he be the missing piece of the jigsaw they’ve both been yearning for?
Hilarious, heartbreaking and full of surprises, Kevin Elyot’s evocative final play proves how powerful our past can be in the present.
The full cast comprises two-time Olivier nominee Adam Garcia (Kenneth Branagh’s The Winter’s Tale), Bryony Hannah (Call the Midwife, The Children’s Hour), Paul Higgins (Line of Duty, The Thick of It), Philip Bretherton (As Time Goes By) and Hugh Ross (Jamie Lloyd’s Macbeth and director of Park Theatre hit The Roundabout).
Anthony Banks was an Associate Director at the National Theatre for ten years and most recently directed Kara Tointon and Keith Allen in Gaslight (national tour). From the producer behind Park Theatre hits The Roundabout and An Audience with Jimmy Savile.
Cahoots Theatre Company and David Sloan in association with Park Theatre present the world premiere of
Twilight Song by Kevin Elyot.
Adam Garcia, Bryony Hannah and Paul Higgins star in the premiere of the final play by Kevin Elyot, writer of the classic comedy My Night with Reg.
Plays: 12 Jul – 12 Aug 2017