IF I WERE YOU
by Alan Ayckbourn.
Tour to 26 June 2010.
Runs 2hr 10min One interval.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 31 May at Richmond Theatre.
Fun and fury in comedy of sexual interchange.
Two genuine reproductions of Alan Ayckbourn’s 2006 comedy. In Sonning, there’s a director and two cast members from Ayckbourn’s original production, while this tour reprises Liza Goddard as put-upon housewife Jill Rodale, who gains a new lease of life in an unexplained day-long body-swap as husband Mal, managing a department-store instead of mooching round the house.
Mal, meanwhile, finds what lies between the mock-punching and head-to-head pretend combat of son-in-law Dean (the plausible Ayden Callaghan). Mal’s aggression is a means of survival; in female guise he finds how Dean treats women and socks him a blow the audience – and Lauren Drummond as Dean’s oppressed wife, repeatedly defensive behind her stuck-on smile – find liberating.
In Joe Harmston’s production Jack Ellis looks further into middle-age than Sonning’s Mal. Both are strong but Ellis is probably more appropriate – especially when his daughter tells what she thinks is her mother how Mal’s mistress must be manipulating him as a besotted older man.
And David Osmond gives their teenage son Sam a rougher edge than Dominic Hecht (who played the role for Ayckbourn). Both at Sonning and in Richmond Sam’s death scene as Thisbe in A Midsummer Night’s Dream earned audience stillness and applause, a sign of the actor’s ability to affect collective mood.
Ellis provides Mal with a puzzlement, both at women and about his new identity, that rounds-out his aggression. And Liza Goddard evokes Mal’s mannerisms after the interval, while her wistful watching as the kettle boils in act one summarises Jill’s daily despair, towards which her daughter is heading.
Theatres mainly revive Ayckbourn’s earlier plays. Perhaps this is being seen twice because it returns to his early theme of marital unhappiness, though with the extra ‘magic’ ingredient from his later wide-ranging plays (including those for young people, where magical elements are more upfront). Among the later work this seemed contrived back then, so these re-evaluations are – valuable.
It’s a value shown as, amid Simon Scullion’s bright colours of a child’s playroom, Harmston rightly concentrates on letting good actors display the truth apparent in the opening act and beneath the second act’s fantasy.
Jill Rodale: Liza Goddard.
Mal Rodale: Jack Ellis.
Chrissie Snaith: Lauren Drummond.
Dean Snaith: Ayden Callaghan.
Sam Rodale: David Osmond.
Director: Joe Harmston.
Designer: Simon Scullion.
Lighting: Mark Howett.
Sound: Rob Langley.
Costume: Lally Broom.