Bucking the recent trend of heart-warming twilight-years weepies, The Lyons is refreshingly bracing. The bedside of dying patriarch Ben is not a place for emotional healing, reconciliation or the celebration of a long, faithful union, but a vitriolic familial recrimination free-for-all; less Oprah, more Jeremy Kyle. However, a brutally caustic first half seems at odds with glimmers of emotional depth in the second, as playwright Nicky Silver reaches for an unearned resolution.
Curiously, the contrasting elements are decently delivered, suggesting there is potential here for a satisfying comedy-drama, but, in a dizzying two hours, both feel a tad lukewarm. Silver seems happy to mine easy laughs from shock-factor zingers and acerbically drawn stereotypes, but, despite some great moments of cartoonish farce, fails to up the ante sufficiently.
Nicholas Day’s irascible patriarch blows through every obscenity within the first five minutes, and Rita Lyons’s deliciously savage Jewish mother, while a gem of a part, begins at too high a level of hilarious awfulness. Their redemptive moments (a peculiar beyond-the-grave cameo and impassioned monologue respectively) aren’t enough to counter all that has come before.