Writer: Julian Barnes
Directors: Michael Grandage and Titus Halder
The Lemon Table, published in 2004, is a Julian Barnes short story collection that centres predominantly around ageing. From the collection actor Ian McDiarmid has plucked two of the stories for the stage production of the same name. The first story, Vigilance (which appeared in the Times Literary Supplement in 1998), is about a passionate music lover whose attempts to police the behaviours of his fellow concert goers reach dramatic levels. The second story, The Silence (which appeared in The Independent), explores the life and contemplations of an elderly Sibelius.
The neatness of the themes connecting the two is, at first glance, apparent. While the characterisation is different, both characters are driven by a passion for music. Not just the music, but indeed, sound itself. Both are searching for silence in different ways, understanding that music and silence are two sides of the same coin. Both characters are in long term relationships, both have failed their partners and both now reflect on how it has been to live with their own shortcomings.
With such characterisation to dig into, Ian McDiarmid has chosen intelligently when creating this adaptation. An experienced theatre maker (McDiarmid was a long time artistic director of the Almeida) McDiarmid has crafted a piece that is sophisticated and simple. A seventy-minute one-man show with a basic set of a table and two chairs needs an engaging performance at the helm. McDiarmid speaks with muscularity and vocal flexibility. One won’t be surprised given his illustrious theatre career, but at seventy-seven McDiarmid would put actors half his age to shame by the sheer ease of his performance.
Overall the production is tremendously pleasing, the elements all working harmoniously. A soft colour palette of black and gold, made soft with mist. The story’s titles projected onto the back curtain, making the stage appear as a book. Some sensitive scoring and understated costumes. It looks beautiful.
Despite the themes the play is not not morbid, we aren’t at death’s door yet. Our characters take some time to listen to the silence, the music, the birds. A charming performance.
Runs until 30th October 2021