Autumn and Winter, Orange Tree, Richmond

There must be the occasional dinner scene that proceeds smoothly in drama, but for the most part, a family reunion around a table spells trouble. So it is with Lars Norén’s Autumn and Winter. We join the family as the eating is done and the recriminations can begin in earnest. What follows is a sort of Swedish family version of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, as a mother and father and two adult daughters rip chunks out of one another. It is sharply funny in places and brutally honest about the rivalries and resentments that can characterise family relationships and the difficulties in separating one’s self from one’s past. But as drama, it also becomes wearing and repetitive: there comes a point in the evening when you want to step in like a long-suffering neighbour and order them all off to bed.

It’s very well played, though, in Derek Goldby’s production, which skilfully negotiates the thickets of argument. Most of the sparks fly, initially, from the clashes between Diane Fletcher’s poised, elegant mother and Lisa Stevenson’s neurotic younger daughter, Ann. Stevenson makes her character admirably unpleasant, so that it is hard to deduce how many of her vicious barbs are well founded. A single mother with a dead-end job, she is prone to nasty digs at her older, wealthier sister and hysterical outbursts. She is emotionally unstable, attention-seeking and keen to pin the blame on someone. She is convinced that something bad happened in the family when she was a child and the plot, such as it is, depends on her efforts to uncover this possible secret.

Kristin Hutchinson’s tight-lipped, neatly suited Ewa at first reacts with disdain to her younger sister’s behaviour and then, as the evening wears on and the quantity of alcohol consumed increases, she erupts, revealing her own painful secrets. Osmund Bullock, as the father, bumbles about, trying unsuccessfully to keep the peace and slowly steeping himself in port.

The piece certainly achieves an intense, claustrophobic effect, which works well in the close confines of the Orange Tree. But the accumulated home truths are less revealing than you might hope and perhaps one of the biggest shocks of the evening comes when Ewa, having downed at least a bottle of wine, announces her intention to drive home.

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