by Alan Ayckbourn.
Menier Chocolate Factory 53 Southwark Street SR 1 1RU To 27 June 2015.
Tue-Sat 8pm Mat Sat & Sun 3.30pm.
Runs 2hr 20min One interval.
TICKETS: 020 7378 1713.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 17 May.
One man, three wives – and three sisters under the skin in fine revival of outstanding Ayckbourn.
There’s been no better time to consider Alan Ayckbourn’s work than early 2015. While London Classic Theatre tours Absent Friends (1974, and people thought he was growing gloomier then), Chichester Festival Theatre opened its season with Way Upstream, the 1981 play where Ayckbourn voyaged into the social temper of newly aggressive times.
Now the Menier stops-off in 1994 at a play where, having repeatedly looked with horror at things to come, this scathing critic of marriage discovered humanity within the family rather than among the excitement and adventure of rampant individualism.
It’s also the play where Ayckbourn’s technical ingenuity with staging, which had distinguished him from early days, finds a new form in the logical complexities of time-travel. And it’s among the very few modern plays to justify both parts of the term ‘comic thriller’.
Not since he raised a whole act’s laughter out of a woman trying to kill herself in Absurd Person Singular has Ayckbourn mashed together laughs and tension as in one scene here. For Imogen Stubbs, who played in Manchester Royal Exchange’s Private Lives a few years ago, it must give a very different meaning to the term balcony scene.
Stubbs is one of the glories of Lindsay Posner’s fine Menier revival, bringing freshness and energy to invigorate the potentially deadly description of her character Ruella as one who’s all goodness. In this performance she’s also intelligent, resourceful and a good listener.
The play’s heart lies at least equally with Poopay, the dominatrix who gradually changes from her black leather gear to reveal courage, warmth and humanity. Rachel Tucker develops from caricature to character, movingly showing the marginalised becoming central.
And as the futuristic scenes show open warfare across London, Ayckbourn offers through time the opportunity to change the future (the play might be a reworking of J B Priestley’s 1930s time-play I Have Been Here Before).
Lucy Briggs-Owen’s Jessica is a picture of the blithely slow-witted upper-class, David Bamber provides rasping menace, Robert Portal copes with the always-difficult age changes in Reece, while Matthew Cottle is a comic delight as a self-important, slow-witted hotel porter.
Julian: David Bamber.
Jessica: Lucy Briggs-Owen.
Harold: Matthew Cottle.
Reece: Robert Portal.
Ruella: Imogen Stubbs.
Poopay: Rachel Tucker.
Director: Lindsay Posner.
Designer: Richard Kent.
Lighting: Jason Taylor.
Sound: Davy Ogilvy.
Composer: Matthew Scott.
Voice/Dialect coach: Penny Dyer.
Hair/Make-up: Richard Mawbey.
Fight director: Terry King.
Associate director: Kirsty Patrick Ward.