A SMALL FAMILY BUSINESS
by Alan Ayckbourn.
Olivier Theatre Upper Ground South Bank SE1 9PX In rep to 27 August 2014.
7.30pm 10, 14-16. 224-26 Apr, 2, 3, 5, 12-15, 20-22, 29-31 May, 2, 9, 10, 11, 17, 18, 24-26 June, 4, 5, 23, 24, 31 July, 1, 2, 4, 8, 9, 15, 16, 26, 27 Aug.
7pm 12 June (NT Live broadcast).
2pm 16, 26, 27 April, 3, 4, 14, 21, 31 May, 1, 18, 25 June, 5, 24 July, 2, 3, 9, 10, 16, 17, 27 Aug.
Audio-described 30 May, 31 May 31 2pm, 9 Aug 2pm.
Captioned 22 May, 3 Aug.
Runs: 2hr 30min One interval.
TICKETS 020 7452 3000.
Review: Carole Woddis 9 April.
Biting satire in need of sharper teeth.
Alan Ayckbourn remains the master of the modern moral farce. He has a way of turning human nature on its head to reveal the nastier aspects we’d rather not acknowledge.
In the mid-1980s, Peter Hall invited Ayckbourn to form his own company at the National. A Small Family Business (1987), one of the plays that resulted, came to be seen as an unusually `political’ comment by Ayckbourn, on Thatcherism. Ayckbourn always denied it, preferring the term `social’ play.
A Small Family Business can certainly be seen as a microcosm of the larger national, if not international, picture where dishonesty and theft are the norm. Maybe they have always been. The later stages of capitalism simply make the excesses more apparent.
Adam Penford’s revival lacks edge but boasts robust performances, led by Nigel Lindsay as Honest Jack (McCracken), the small businessman taking over his family’s firm, Ayres and Graces, uncovering a nest of vipers and gradually metamorphosing into a mafioso godfather.
Opening in a week when headlines have been screaming about a Cabinet Minister’s failure to properly account for their expenses, this should seem furiously relevant. The slippery slope, Ayckbourn suggests, starts with minor infringements. Who hasn’t at some time `liberated’ the odd paper clip from the office or fiddled an expense? What starts out as a small matter of minor shoplifting here morphs into fraud, embezzlement and worse.
The fact this production doesn’t quite bite may have something to do with the fact that we’ve become used to harder-hitting assaults on the malfunctioning, greed-obsessed tenor of our times. But on the way, given Ayckbourn’s fantastic control and dramatic construction, there is plenty of entertainment, via his gallery of flawed in-laws, wives and relatives, with bondage, blackmail, adultery, drug-running and even murder all brilliantly employed to create moments of comic mayhem.
There is, too, a wonderful portrait of greasy nemesis in the form of store investigator Benedict Hough, played with repellent Uriah Heap unctuousness by Matthew Cottle. Alice Sykes’ Sammy, the daughter whose shoplifting escapade unleashes the whole cycle, provides a sobering final glimpse of family damage still to come.
Jack McCracken: Nigel Lindsay.
Poppy: Debra Gillett.
Ken Ayres: Gawn Grainger.
Tina Ruston: Rebecca McKinnis.
Samantha McCracken: Alice Sykes.
Roy Ruston: Samuel Taylpr.
Cliff McCracken: Stephen Beckett.
Anita McCracken: Niky Wardley.
Desmond Ayres: Neal Barry.
Harriet Ayres: Amy Marston.
Yvonne Doggett: Amanda Hadingue.
Benedict Hough: Matthew Cottle.
Uberto Rivetti: Gerard Monaco.
Giorgio Rivetti: Gordon A. Cream.
Orlando Rivetti: Don Groamacer.
Vincenzo Rivetti: Reg MacArdoon.
Lotario Rivetti: Marc Gerodano.
Director: Adam Penford.
Designer: Tim Hatley.
Lighting: Paul Anderson.
Sound: Gareth Fry.
Music: Grant Olding.
Company Voice work: Jeannette Nelson.
Fight director: Alison De Burgh.
This production of A Small Family Business opened in the Olivier Theatre, London 8 April 2014.