Review: Lyonesse


by Mike Matthaiakis

“Lyonesse” navigates the precarious territory between a parody of romcoms and a poignant exploration of female struggles in a post-#MeToo world. Penelope Skinner’s play, while funny and engaging, stumbles into a disjointed narrative that feels torn between a crowd-pleasing comedy and a bleaker reflection on societal expectations.

The story revolves around Kate (Lily James), an underachieving employee at Lilith, a feminist-leaning film production company. Kate’s life takes an unexpected turn when she is tasked with unraveling the story of Elaine (Kristin Scott Thomas), an actress with a mysterious past. As the narrative unfolds, “Lyonesse” touches on themes of female support, protection from predatory men, and the challenges faced by women, both as mothers and professionals.

The play embraces the romcom genre for a significant portion, with Lily James delivering a fine comic performance as the awkward Kate and Kristin Scott Thomas adding flair as the eccentric Elaine. However, the narrative abruptly shifts its tone, introducing a heavier plot that feels somewhat forced, robbing the play of its initial lightheartedness.

While “Lyonesse” successfully addresses issues like the lack of support for women in the post-#MeToo era, it struggles to maintain a cohesive storyline. The character of Kate, portrayed entertainingly by James, becomes a focal point of contention. Her simultaneous existence as a regular office underachiever and a lovable kook with a successful film director husband adds complexity and blunts the universality of her story.

The eccentricity of Elaine’s character also poses a challenge, with her extreme behavior somewhat diluting the impact of her narrative. The dissonance between her intended Felicity Kendall-type persona and her Greta Garbo-esque actions adds a layer of disorientation.

Directed by Ian Rickson, the play boasts well-handled comedic moments, notably the scene where Elaine shares her story and the characters get drunk to the tune of Ultra Naté’s ‘Free.’ However, the flaws in the play become more apparent on the West End stage, magnified by the expectations set by its star-studded cast.

“Lyonesse” feels like a play with imperfections that would have found a comfortable home at the Royal Court a decade ago. Its foray onto the West End stage, while showcasing star power, amplifies its shortcomings. Nevertheless, the play manages to deliver moments of savage clarity and humor, making it an imperfect yet worthwhile experience.