by Alan Ayckbourn.
Mercury Theatre Balkerne Gate CO1 1PT In rep to 22 June 2013.
7.30pm 10, 11, 13, 15, 16, 18 May, 18, 29, 21 June.
2.30pm 11, 16 May, 22 June.
Audio-described 18 May.
Captioned 15 May.
Post-Show Discussion 15 May.
Runs 2hr 20min One interval.
TICKETS: 01206 573948.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 9 May.
Fine display of comedy and vitriol.
As the parallel universes (or villages) of Alan Ayckbourn’s 8-version (16 version, counting the alternative short closing scenes) 1982 Intimate Exchanges unfold across four of its forms at the Mercury, it becomes clear the central quartet of characters live non-parallel lives in each play.
All the Exchanges start with the same moment, private school headteacher’s wife Celia Teasdale choosing whether or not to smoke a cigarette in her garden. From these opening five seconds emerge meetings that bring more significant choices as gaps between scenes widen, to a final jump of five years.
The plays follow various paths in life that lead to things being said or not, and plans for various futures. In A Pageant the Teasdales’ young cleaner, Sylvie Bell, becomes less sexually provocative and genuinely fond of forty-something Toby Teasdale, gruffly self-aware and angry in his alcoholic bitterness at life.
Ruth Gibson contrasts this earnest Sylvie with a Celia steelier than the anxious, conscientious woman seen in director Robin Herford’s recent Mercury revivals of Events on a Hotel Terrace and A One Man Protest from the Exchanges. This becomes evident after the interval in the rehearsal of a scene in the school’s historical pageant (the long post-interval scenes are the ones giving each individual play its title).
Celia steps in when a local worthy is injured, but Teasdale rudely dismisses her, having cast Sylvie as Boudicca. The tussle over who will play, and whether the character’s called ‘Boudicca’ or ‘Boadicea’, stands as proxy for Toby’s hatred and Celia’s jealousy.
With hardness in manner, tweeness in historical costume (the Iceni queen dressed by a Paris salon) and open triumphalism at her exit, Celia wins hands-down as her marriage auto-destructs, along with the pageant platform grounds-keeper Lionel has been constructing. This shares the fate of the tent in Gosforth’s Fête, where truths are also unwittingly overheard amid farcical mayhem.
Gwynfor Jones matches drunken ebullience with cruel fury in Toby, contrasting resentful subservience in Lionel, the only one to get his way by an end where comedy has quietened and passions ceased to flare in the embers of these lives.
Celia/Sylvie: Ruth Gibson.
Toby/Lionel: Gwynfor Jones.
Director: Robin Herford.
Designer: Micharl Holt.
Lighting: Matthew Eagland.
Sound/Composer: Adam P McCready.
Assistant director: C P Hallam.