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Americans - so hard to place on the social scale
Where are we socially? The question is often on my mind as I watch plays set in America. Two nations divided by a common language, said Bernard Shaw (though no one can find where); two nations divided by notions of interior design as well, say I.
Lloyd Evans, the drama critic of The Spectator, found the Tyrones “living in great splendour” in “a beautiful seaside mansion” in the new production of Eugene O’Neill’s Long Day’s Journey Into Night that has just opened to rave reviews at London’s Apollo Theatre.
The place looked pretty swanky to me, too. But it isn’t supposed to — and probably wouldn’t to an American eye. A major theme to the play is that actor James Tyrone (brilliantly played by David Suchet) is too tight-fisted to look after his tumbledown property. As his wife Mary (Laurie Metcalfe) tells him: “You forget I know from experience what a home is like. I gave up one to marry you — my father’s home.”
During Neil Simon’s Barefoot in the Park at Oxford Playhouse this week I was never sure about the social status of any of those involved. To my eyes the fifth-floor apartment of the Bratters from designer Tim Goodchild looked huge (and very like that supplied for the bohemians in Glyndebourne’s La bohème). But surely the missing glass in the skylight and the ropey heating and plumbing would never have been endured by folk rich enough to live there. So are they smart or not?
And what about Corrie Bratter’s mum, played by Maureen Lipman? She looks every inch the well-heeled widow in her fur coat and an ideal catch for the impecunious Hungarian upstairs (who dines with the King of Norway — another puzzle). But why, then, would she perm her own hair?