As a prolific Swedish playwright who sets his unhappy family dramas behind closed doors, Lars Noren’s work - almost unknown in the UK - is often compared with that of Strindberg and Bergman.
Lisa Stevenson, Diane Fletcher, Kristin Hutchinson and Osmund Bullock in Autumn and Winter at the Orange Tree, Richmond Photo: Robert Day
Those great names recognised the value of economy, coolly picking at a single scab in the fabric of family life. But Noren deploys a whole rattlebag of rivalries and resentments, more closely echoing the scattergun hysteria of Albee’s Virginia Woolf.
The Orange Tree programme gives no date of composition, but a family dinner with all the trimmings (including port and after-dinner mints) gives Noren’s play a fifties feel. Diane Fletcher, playing the mother as a housewife with no help, is carefully dressed and coiffed for the occasion, striving to keep a lid on the revelations and regrets.
The wounding worm in the bud is Lisa Stevenson as the hysterical younger daughter, returning home after 20 years of crap jobs, worse relationships and a termination. Chain-smoking her way through a pack of Camels and fuelled by plentiful wine, she embarks on a mission to uncover what she believes is a family secret that left her bruised and broken, heavily hinting that Dad was more affectionate than need be.
He, a failed GP whose universal remedies are Prozac and sleeping tabs, is convincingly portrayed by Osmund Bullock as a man in diffident self-denial, while Kristin Hutchinson as his older daughter, a chic social secretary with a taste for good living, suddenly reveals her own venomous hatred and hidden pains.
At almost two hours with neither an interval nor a cohesive plot, the play slowly dwindles into ‘Four Characters in Search of a Conclusion’. But Derek Goldby’s direction smartly varies the pace, while his fine quartet of players give vivid, always watchable performances.