Lyonesse ★★★ Harold Pinter Theatre | Oct 17 - Dec 23, 2023

On top of trying to balance a career and a family life, a young film development executive is now called upon to go to Cornwall for a couple of days. It's her brief to see if the experiences of a reclusive former film and television star can be made into a movie. Lily James plays the overwhelmed and unassertive Kate who sets out to uncover the secrets of the diva, Elaine (Kristin Scott Thomas), and the reason for her mysterious disappearance and thirty year self-exile. Ironically, Kate actually ends up learning as much about herself as she does about her interview subject, and she comes to question her own values and choices. Entering what at first appears to be the wacky world of the former star, the youthful exec comes to see that the forces that drove Elaine into retirement are, perhaps, equally, if more subtly, present and threatening in her own life. External definitions of who she should be and her own desire to please are, in fact, thwarting her fulfillment. The question then becomes how Kate will handle her burgeoning self-knowledge. Penelope Skinner's Lyonesse brings some humour and insight into the issues facing women in a patriarchal society, but its points are often hammered home and the symbolism is somewhat heavy-handed. While the play is occasionally entertaining and the characters of Kate and Elaine are well drawn, the work could definitely use some editing. As the earnest, easily manipulated Kate, Lily James puts in a delightful and completely credible performance, while the character of Elaine gives Kristin Scott Thomas a fine opportunity to channel her inner Norma Desmond. Doon Mackichan puts in a beautifully tailored cameo as Kate's crafty boss, and James Corrigan hits the right notes as Kate's caricatured husband. With some strong performances, this journey into the land of Lyonesse exposes some enduring realities that cannot be washed away.

Rated: ★★★

Reviewed by J.C.
Photo by Manuel Harlan

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