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A Delicate Balance

Published Friday 13 May 2011 at 12:23 by Ben Dowell

Judging by the sixties, Waspy types populating Albee’s curious, anger-filled family drama, it’s little wonder the author didn’t have much time for his rich, adoptive parents.

Imelda Staunton (Claire) and Lucy Cohu (Julia) in A Delicate Balance at the Almeida, London

Imelda Staunton (Claire) and Lucy Cohu (Julia) in A Delicate Balance at the Almeida, London Photo: Hugo Glendinning

This play is not an easy ride - it’s not difficult to see why it isn’t revived much. But in the skilful hands of director James Macdonald and his fabulous ensemble, Albee’s finely-tuned study in dysfunction, bristling fury and the agonies of loss and ageing are fully realized.

Tim Pigott-Smith is superb as the outwardly calm paterfamilias Tobias, hovering hesitantly on designer Laura Hopkins’ immaculately designed wood-panelled living room (production values which, one hopes, will weather this venue’s savage cuts). He clings to his friends Edna and Harry who turn up at his beautifully-appointed home, mysteriously scared witless simply by staying at home one Friday night.

However, it’s a case of out of the frying pan for everyone. Lucy Cohu’s Julia, Agnes and Tobias’ emotionally frozen 36-year-old daughter, is in crisis following the failure of marriage number four, and Claire, Agnes’ dipsomaniacal sister (a hilarious Imelda Staunton) hasn’t stopped drinking.

To some extent it is the stoicism, the “I’ll leave it to you darling” attitude of Penelope Wilton’s Agnes that marks the safest course. For this is an outwardly cosy world where there are no more meaningful choices left. Emotion is quickly stifled by the many slugs of whisky and brandy that are politely imbibed as substitutes for real discourse, in a lovely home lined with beautiful books that nobody bothers to read. Hypnotic and rather chilling.

Production information

Almeida, London, May 5-July 2

Edward Albee
James Macdonald
Tim Pigott-Smith, Penelope Wilton, Imelda Staunton, Diana Hardcastle, Ian McElhinney, Lucy Cohu
Running time:

Production information displayed was believed correct at time of review. Information may change over the run of the show.

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Run sheet

King's Head, Islington London
January 24-February 15 2014