Eden End – review

Royal and Derngate, Northampton

Stella Kirby (a bewitching Charlotte Emmerson) ran away to be an actor eight years ago. Now she has unexpectedly returned to the family home, Eden End. But there is no fatted calf, and it is no paradise. Stella's ageing father, a country doctor, believes she has been living out the dreams he was too cowardly to pursue; her younger sister, Lilian, is resentful of her elder, more beautiful sibling, who still holds the local squire in thrall; and her younger brother, Wilfred, has grown into a shallow young man who feels he doesn't quite belong either at home or in Africa, where he now works.

Written in 1934 as Europe hurtled towards war, but set in 1912 before the start of another devastating conflict, JB Priestley's drama is English minor-key Chekhov. It gently interrogates the elusive search for happiness, the hash we so often make of our lives, and the way history laughs at us. Dr Kirby's touching, deluded faith that the world will soon be a better place recalls the doctor Astrov in Uncle Vanya.

In a less vivid production than Laurie Sansom's, almost every character might have come across as a bit whiny, but Sansom introduces an intriguing meditation on the dangerous allure of illusion into what is otherwise a naturalistic, slightly plodding family drama. Sara Perks's nifty design offers a theatre within a theatre within a theatre, and nods towards the Wordsworthian stars Stella loves so much and the lamps that will soon go out all over Europe. Not a sizzler, then, but at moments quietly affecting.

Contributor

Lyn Gardner

The GuardianTramp

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