Festival Theatre, Malvern – until 27th November 2021
Reviewed by Courie Amado Juneau
A silence that speaks volumes!
The Lemon Table is adapted for the stage from two short stories by writer Julian Barnes. From the start you know you are in for something different with no fanfare greeting the actor’s entrance, a minimalism maintained throughout, packing a powerful punch.
The show is really two scenes, each with its own central (onstage) character and many offstage ones, all brought to life vividly by the wonderful Ian McDiarmid. The first half concentrates on one man’s exasperation with his fellow concert goers and their percieved lack of respect during live concert going. The second half introduces Jean Sibelius, the aclaimed Finnish composer, in old age. This was no quiet reflection recounting past glories though. Instead, we are treated to a rhapsody on loneliness and the desperate ways one attempts to mitigate its effects as he faces his mortality.
Although there is only one actor it is a multi character show. To produce such a range of characterisation using just a subtle gesture, a change of vocal inflection or a mere glance was pure genius, showing an actor totally in command of his craft. I found myself marvelling at the transformation produced by buttoning a coat, adjusting a tie and popping on a subtle prop coupled with a change of posture – a testament to all involved in the production, including Directors Michael Grandage and Titas Halder.
I evidently was not the only one engrossed in the on stage action. I have never heard such a quiet auditorium, with the audience hanging upon every word. The use of silence (a central theme running through the spine of the show ) as an emotional punctuation was particularly moving and was almost symphonic in it’s impact. If one can achieve pitch perfect silence, there it was!
Apart from loneliness, the show explores many other emotions such as mortality, alienation and, especially poignantly, the loss of a partner’s love. Given the subject matter there is a surprising amount of humour . Perhaps it is because of the universal feelings explored that the humour resonates so deeply, being something we can all recognise in ourselves.
The lighting (designed by Paule Constable) was employed sparsely, as was the staging (by Designer Frankie Bradshaw), and was all the more effective for it – helping to focus the attention on the story so that changes produced maximum dramatic effect. I’ve never seen such a telling effect wrought by changing the angle of a chair to introduce a non seen character before! There was particularly clever use of the table of the title, embodying both a physical (and mental) mountain.
A triumph for all involved (both onstage and off) and one that will stay long in the memory. I could not recommend this highly enough.
As Sibelius recounts in the play: “music begins where words end”. I returned home wanting to listen again to the music of this wonderful composer, surely the greatest testament to how compelling this play is.