Home Estate Planning Till the Stars Come Down review: Reality TV meets Greek tragedy

Till the Stars Come Down review: Reality TV meets Greek tragedy

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The latest offering from Beth Steel (ex-NT writer-in-residence) is a stonking family drama underpinned by a strong state-of-the-nation sentiment. You’ve probably been at a wedding like the one portrayed in Till the Stars Come Down, or at least one that holds a rocky resemblance to it. There are batty relatives, brothers who haven’t spoken in decades, seating plan politics and a drunken punch-up to polish things off. 

The plot is not a new one (in short: big family wedding gone wrong), but it is executed brilliantly. Set against the post-industrial backdrop of a Nottinghamshire town and revolving around the lives of three sisters, it is a gorgeous, funny depiction of multi-generational female relationships. Throughout the two acts, Steel’s script drip feeds our gossip-hungry ears with delectable morsels of intel. Slowly, the pieces begin to fit together. There are some devious twists too – following an unexpected onstage smooch, one man in the audience actually squealed. 

Well-suited to the Dorfman, the National’s smallest theatre, Samal Blak has created a marvellous set. Performed in the round and complete with an obnoxiously large glitter ball to oversee proceedings, the effect is one of mounting claustrophobia. Like greedy zoo animals at feeding time, we strain our necks towards the action, eager to gobble up the unfolding mayhem. The beauty here is that you don’t know these people: it is not your wife peeling off her Spanx at the wedding reception with heady relief, not your uncle peppering the dinner table chat with racist micro-aggressions. You can bask in the sticky, awkward unpleasantness of it all with slightly detached relish. 

Till the Stars Come Down really does spoil us with its cast. All offer stellar performances and have an addictive chemistry as a unit. Lorraine Ashbourne is a particular joy as the sequin-spangled Aunty Carol, cackling inappropriately, getting down to Britney and sinking Polish vodka with reckless abandon. At the play’s heavier moments, she is often a belly laugh-inducing antidote. 

Quick-witted transitions between the serious and plain silly are frequent and effective. Uncle Pete (Philip Whitchurch) rattles off the names of closed coal pits in a sombre toast until a bread roll flung at his forehead brings him to an abrupt halt. The play is at its best in moments like this, when verging on the ridiculous. As it reaches its crescendo, the play loses its grip slightly, with the melodrama of the closing scene slightly at odds with what has gone before.

Combining all the best bits of salacious reality TV and the emotional complexity of a Greek tragedy, Till the Stars Come Down is hilarious and just a bit heartbreaking. Bring on wedding season. 

Till the Stars Come Down plays at the National Theatre until 16 March. 

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