Strange Interlude**** (National Theatre Lyttelton, 10 July 2013)

Posted: July 10, 2013 in Theatre

photo-112Spanning the period between the two World Wars, Eugene O’Neill’s epic yet intimate play centres on a lady named Nina and her relationships with three men; they are all obsessed with her and she regards them as husband, lover and substitute father. All of the characters speak both to each other and directly to the audience, giving the play a structure that is at first disconcerting but, as we get used to it, offers greater insight into their complexities and even provides opportunities for humour. After half an hour or so there seemed to be a pressing need for an interval exit; the dialogue sounded impossible for the actors to interpret realistically, the action took place on a very odd set compressed into a quarter of the Lyttelton stage and there was nothing happening that we could become even slightly involved in. At this point it looked like yet another in the line of recent Lyttelton productions that fails to connect with its audience and another example of the wonderful Anne-Marie Duff (as Nina) being the only shining light in a dud, just as she was in the Donmar’s woeful “Berenice”. However, slowly and almost imperceptibly, the production begins to take hold and, once it has gained its grip the rest of the running time of over 3 hours just flies by; the characters become believable, the story intriguing and, in the second half, the stage opens out to reveal some marvellous sets. This is a challenging play that defies accepted norms, extends the boundaries of what is possible in theatre and delves deep into aspects of the human condition. It is never easy for the audience, but superb acting and bold direction contribute to making it a highly rewarding experience.

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