A ONE MAN PROTEST
by Alan Ayckbourn.
Mercury Theatre Balkerne Gate CO1 1PT In rep to 18 May 2013.
26 April, 14, 16, 17 May 7.30pm. Mat 27 April, 18 May 2.30pm.
Audio-described 27 Apr.
Captioned 26 Apr.
Runs 2hr 35min One interval.
TICKETS: 01206 573948.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 23 April.
The man doth not protest too much, methinks.
Incoming supremo Daniel Buckroyd is developing a distinct new identity for the Mercury, still being forged on stage (one speedy success is the theatre’s restaurant, reopened with individual menus of good food for people making a night of eating or wanting a meal before the show).
Through the season come four versions of Alan Ayckbourn’s Intimate Exchanges, their various storylines revealing human yearning and angst resulting from character’s choices.
At the 1982 premiere(s), and subsequently in London, all male roles were played by Robin Herford, who directs Colchester’s revivals. Any of the Exchanges can be seen independently but the more anyone accumulates, the greater the cross-play resonances (as with elsewhere – clumsy doctor Bill Windsor, referred to in 1982, arrived on stage in 1985’s Woman in Mind).
A doctor’s in order in both shows, as mental pressures, desire for the unobtainable and frustration with what you’ve got, run beneath the comedy. In this case mild, loyal, strictly English Miles Coombes ‘loses it’, refusing to emerge from a locked garden shed.
There’s further pleasure in the growing complicity with the two actors; even the noises-off as they scurry behind the set or change costume to reappear as a different character, becomes enjoyable. We still link the actor to their previous scene, even though their new character’s blithely unaware of events we’ve seen.
Gwynfor Jones and Ruth Gibson start well enough, but it’s when their various incarnations begin interweaving that their skill becomes apparent. Jones’ muscular grounds-keeper Lionel or drunk misanthrope headteacher Toby are distinct from each other and ever-willing school governor Miles. It’s not just hairstyles and headgear, but voice (Jones has a rich, varied lower register) and posture.
Gibson changes gear (in all senses) between Toby’s fraught wife Celia, sinuously suggestive young cleaner Sylvie, with a knowingness that puts implication into words, looks and silence, and her finest creation, the ginger-curled Rowena, Miles’ active wife, frustrated at her husband’s hesitancy.
Finishing school, school leaver and university student emerge in her portrayals, while Herford ensures the sinister lurking increasingly openly in the grass of Ayckbourn’s suburbs interweaves the humour and sadness here.
Celia/Sylvie/Rowena: Ruth Gibson.
Miles/Lionel/Toby: Gwynfor Jones.
Director: Robin Herford.
Designer: Michael Holt.
Lighting: Matthew Eagland.
Sound: Adam McCready.
Assistant director: Chris Hallam.