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A Delicate Balance at The Loft

A Delicate Balance at The Loft Theatre

A Delicate Balance, written by Edward Albee and directed by Sue Moore. The Loft Theatre, Leamington Spa, until 30 September.

Review by Sue Beech.

This 3-act play by the author of ‘Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf’ won a Pulitzer prize in the 1960s, and it remains relevant today, exploring as it does the tensions and terrors lurking beneath the routines of everyday life as well as the more universal themes of family relationships, friendship, and growing old.

The play takes place over a weekend in the drawing room of a prosperous middle-aged couple, with the seemingly permanent live-in company of the wife’s younger sister, who struggles with alcoholism. The unexpected intrusion of their ‘best friends’ as well as the return home of their daughter from yet another failed marriage wreak havoc with normality and the balance of their lives.

In Act 1 we meet Agnes (Lorna Middleton) and Tobias (Craig Shelton), who are enjoying a Friday-evening chat in a comfortable, long-married way – at least until the appearance of sister Claire (Leonie Frazier), when conversation becomes much more barbed and aggressive. The home bar, which is quite prominent in this drawing room, is a main focus of the action; there is a lot of drinking throughout the play, at all hours of the day and night.

At the end of the first Act, we learn about the imminent return of daughter Julia, but the real surprise is the sudden and unexpected arrival of Tobias’ best friend Harry (Paul Curran), with his wife Edna (Lucinda Toomey). With little explanation, they ask to stay the night, and the puzzled Agnes and Tobias acquiesce.

In Act 2, on Saturday, Julia (Leonie Slater) has arrived with a vengeance – she is angry and bewildered to find ‘her’ room occupied by Harry and Edna, and she clashes successively with each of her parents and her aunt. During the day, Harry and Edna go home, only to collect their belongings, and by the evening Julia is clashing with Edna and then with Harry. Everyone seems confused and bewildered, with differing degrees of anger, and Agnes is struggling to maintain a balance between them all – she sees herself as the fulcrum.

A rehearsal photo.

The final Act begins early on Sunday morning, with Tobias in his dressing-gown mixing a cocktail, having been up all night. The rest of the family appear gradually, also in their night attire, and ponder the mystery about Harry and Edna’s wish to move in. The final denouement appears to resolve nothing at all, and we are left to consider how fragile is the balance of even the most settled of lives.

All members of the cast are to be congratulated both on their consistent, under-stated American accents, and their ability to give the impression that such unlikely dialogue – long-winded clauses, witty epigrams, bitter repartee - is actually a normal means of communication. And Director Sue Moore is to be congratulated on stepping into a situation where the cast was already chosen, and working with them to create this final, polished production.

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