Leigh Hatts

Aristocrats at the National Theatre

The action in Aristocrats at first seems slow moving but the setting is an Irish country house Ballybeg Hall where there is time to have interesting and revealing conversations.


The house has been in the Roman Catholic family for at least three generations or, as one character suggests, from Supreme court judge to failed solicitor. The latter is Casimir (played by Andrew Scott) who now lives in Germany with a possibly fictional family and works in a sausage factory. His vivid imagination and nervousness are played extremely well.

Father, the last sucess of the family but at the expense of his children, is a much heard but little seen former lower court judge (played by TP McKenna who is an honorary life member of the company at Dublin's Abbey Theatre where this play was first staged in 1979).

Other family members back from their much less grand London homes include always slightly drunk and insecure Alice (Dervla Kerwin of Ballykissangel fame) with her violent husband (Peter McDonald from another class. Running the weekend and managing the wedding arrangements is the child who stayed at home, sensible Judith (Gina McKee). Her sadness emerges slowly.

Director Tom Cairns has devised a clever set which allows us to enjoy the garden and house together in the first act but the focus is on the outdoors as the story unfolds.

The background in this revived play by Brian Friel is Chopin played live. The music fills the gaps between conversations gradually revealing the relationships in the dying family.

This is a sad play with the audience only occasionally errupting into laughter at a joke or observation. But the seemingly slow play passes in a flash.

• Aristocrats continues at the National Theatre until 1 December.

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