by Alan Ayckbourn.

Mercury Theatre Balkerne Gate CO1 1PT In rep to 27 April 2013.
27 April 7.30pm.
Runs 2hr 15min One interval.

TICKETS: 01206 573948.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 23 April.

Showing you can’t always want what you get. And vice versa.
Two actors and eight (or sixteen) plays: Alan Ayckbourn’s early eighties extravaganza hardly seems fair on the performers. Back in 1982 at Scarborough, the English lawn was people by Ayckbourn regulars Lavinia Bertram and Robin Herford. Herford likes the plays so much he’s directing four versions himself as part of incoming Artistic Director Daniel Buckroyd’s Mercury season.

A canny choice of pieces, experimental yet safe. This is middle-class England playing on its nerves as fragrant English rose Celia Teasdale’s marriage to private school headteacher Toby evaporates around his alcoholicism, while loyal chair of governors Miles Coombes loves her from the sidelines and school grounds-keeper man Lionel, from the nearby council estate, lusts after her.

That’s what this version of Intimate Exchanges portrays. Each Exchange opens with Celia in the garden deciding whether to have a cigarette, a decision leading to one of two meetings; further decisions lead to alternative futures, scene by scene, creating a total of 16 plot-lines, though with the outer scenes being the shorter, most people can get-by with eight. The third, post-interval scene, provides the individual play title.

Here, Toby and Celia try a holiday in a dowdy hotel full of imagined old customers. When Ayckbourn uses a four-scene structure, the third is usually the comic high-spot. Celia’s forced, out of politeness, to stuff herself with tea and sandwiches as Lionel, taking temporary employment as a waiter keeps bringing her refreshments to justify spending time on the terrace. Each time Toby returns he’s comically puzzled at finding his wife at a different table on the empty patio.

And, in such structures, the final scene is usually much more sombre. Here, the version on display is set outside a church, things physically darker in Michael Holt’s graveyard set and Matthew Eagland’s subdued, shadowy lighting.

Time has passed, the passions of earlier moments calmed, with the weight of unspoken experience lying on the characters. Events focuses on a smaller range of characters than some Exchanges, the faithful Miles and knowing cleaning-girl Sylvie having minor roles, but registering nonetheless in the alert performances of Ruth Gibson and Gwynfor Jones.

Celia/Sylvie: Ruth Gibson.
Toby/Lionel/Miles: Gwynfor Jones.

Director: Robin Herford.
Designer: Michael Holt.
Lighting: Matthew Eagland.
Sound: Adam McCready.
Assistant director: Chris Hallam.

2013-04-26 11:44:03

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