Rosencrantz and Guildenstern definitely aren't dying
'Zounds it's Stan's Shakespeare-athon

A Delicate Balance between indifference and appreciation

A-Delicate-Balan_1894749b The Almeida and I seem to have a heated relationship. I've seen two plays there now and both were on extremely hot and humid days and neither have blown me away. Fortunately for this last visit,  A Delicate Balance, the air conditioning was working in the auditorium although it struggled a bit after the doors had been closed on the packed house for a while.

So hear's the thing. When the applause had died down I turned to Poly shrugging and said: "I don't get it."

And at the point, born out of indifference, I didn't. I needed time to cogitate.

Edward Albee's 1966's play is of a family life all smooth, gliding swan on the surface but below the waterline the legs are working overtime to keep the momentum and direction.

It is a classic theatrical devise, all that is peaceful and content is either not what it appears or is slowly destroyed and in A Delicate Balance it is both. Wealthy, middle-class couple Agnes (Penelope Wilton) and Tobias (Tim Piggott-Smith) seem relatively content with their lot, at home on Friday evening chatting over an after-dinner drink.

There are, however, three spanners in the works. Firstly Agnes' sister Claire (Imelda Staunton) who is a house guest, is an alcoholic. Secondly, a phone call from their daughter Julia (Lucy Cohu) who says she is coming home after separating from yet another husband. And, thirdly, their best friends Edna (Diana Hardcastle) and Harry (Ian McElhinney) who just turn up unannounced and take up residence in Claire's room.

Claire is a problem because she tends to ask the question everyone is thinking and can be brutally honest (can always trust a drinker to make things interesting and she does). Julia is a problem because she is a grown up child coming back to a home that isn't quite as she left it. And Harry and Edna are a problem in that they create a dilemma, they are unwanted guests but old friends.

I think my initial reaction stems from the fact that I just didn't buy the whole Harry and Edna storyline. Maybe I'm missing something but they just turn up because they 'got scared' and in a group of people that are so terribly polite you'd expect them to be a bit more, well, 'I'm sorry I hope this is OK?' at least once they've got over their initial 'fright'.

Maybe I'm putting too much of myself into the play. I think the turning point in my reflections came when I recalled how my mind had wandered to a past relationship of my own. It's about choice you see and how much choice the characters have. Albee seems to imply that as you get older the less choice you have indeed he says as much in an interview reproduced in the programme.

And again, maybe I'm putting myself too much in this but I just don't buy that as an argument. I believe fear makes the options limited. There are always options it's just having it in ourselves to choose them. You get a sense of it in Agnes who is desperate to maintain the status quo but etiquette narrows her vision.

What is comes down to is, to pinch Bill Shakespeare, 'the play's the thing' and despite superb performances from all and Imelda Staunton gets an extra special mention*, it just wasn't quite my thing. My initial indifference was the warning bell but on reflection I can at least appreciate some of what it was about.

It's getting 3 stars from me.

* What a genius that woman is, I'd have quite happily watched a play just about Claire.


I think Poly is right, The Hour is going to be a rich vein of connections: Tim Piggot-Smith is in the aforementioned and soon to aired series with Mr W.