IF I WERE YOU
by Alan Ayckbourn.
The Mill at Sonning To 10 July 2010.
Tue/Wed-Sat 8.15pm (Dinner 6.30pm) no performance 8, 22, 29 June. Mat Sat, Sun & 24 June, 1, 8 July 2.15pm (Lunch 12.30pm).
Runs 2hr 10min One interval.
TICKETS: -118 969 8000.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 28 May.
A revival that shows how to play for truth and be rewarded with laughs.
At its best – and, despite the author’s 2006 premiere, this revival probably is its best – Alan Ayckbourn’s body-swap comedy If I Were You is truthful throughout and highly comic after the interval.
For department-store manager Mal and housewife Jill mid-life crisis isn’t so much ‘Crisis? What crisis?’ as ‘Life? What life’. She’s fading into blank-faced, pill-popping depression while he gets by on indigestion, infidelity and aggression.
Only a miracle can save them and it appears a miracle does. Director Terence Booth ensures the despairing cry “God help us” late in act one is emphasised, then lets Ayckbourn work his dramatic magic as the pair wake-up to find themselves in each others’ bodies.
On tour in 2007, this seemed contrived, the marital angst merely retreading familiar Ayckbourn territory, and Ayckbourn assuming te two will try living each other’s lives in their new bodies, taking physical mannerisms with them.
At Sonning, with the action directly at the audience’s feet, there’s a strong sense of the first act’s anxieties, with much comedy unleashed after the interval, as teenage son Sam, married daughter Chrissie and her husband Dean find the person they think of as Mal suddenly considerate, while Jill apparently starts malfunctioning.
Booth, an experienced Ayckbourn actor, prepares for this fantasy by establishing the truth of the first act. He has a perfect cast, including several experienced Ayckbournians. Richard Stacey and Neil Andrew share a male physical byplay and rough laddish jocosity. Dominic Hecht shows even the sensitive Sam picking up his father’s physical mannerisms, while Katie Foster-Barnes’ Chrissie has a youthful energy contrasting her mother, but also shows signs she’s heading towards the same abyss.
A strong upper-cut from ‘Jill’ to Dean’s chin might help prevent that, while Jill’s day as Mal at work, solving problems by consideration instead of anger, shows getting out of the house could be her salvation.
Karen Ascoe is excellent as Jill; her silence as she stands behind a pontificating Mal speaks loudly, and strong as Mal, with the vocal inconsideration and awkward, stiff male posturing that clearly comes naturally to him, even in a woman’s body.
Jill Rodale: Karen Ascoe.
Mal Rodale: Richard Stacey.
Sam Rodale: Dominic Hecht.
Dean Snaith: Neil Andrew.
Chrissie Snaith: Katie Foster-Barnes.
Director: Terence Booth.
Designer: Michael Holt.
Costume: Jane Kidd.
Fight director: Alison de Burgh.