by Alan Ayckbourn.

Nottingham Playhouse Wellington Circus NG1 5AF To 16 February.
Mon-Sat 7.45pm Mat Thu 1.30pm & 9 Feb 2.30pm.
Audio-described 9 Feb 2.30pm, 13 Feb.
BSL Signed 15 Feb.
Captioned 14 Feb 7.45pm.
TICKETS: 0115 941 9419.

then Salisbury Playhouse Malthouse Lane 27 February-23 March 2013.
Mon-Sat 7.30pm Mat 7, 9 March 2.15pm.
Audio-described 21 March 2.15pm & 7.30pm (+Touch Tour mat & eve).
BSL Signed 20 March.
Post-show Discussion 19 March.
TICKETS: 01722 320333.

Runs 2hr 5min One interval.
Review: Alan Geary: 30 January.

Not Ayckbourn’s greatest, but impeccable direction and excellent performances.
Alan Ayckbourn’s plays are chiefly about middle-class relationships and anxieties. Joking Apart – it’s not obvious why it bears this title – certainly is. For a change Ayckbourn examines a happy relationship; in fact the central couple just keep on getting happier. They’re not trying consciously for happiness: it seems to flow as a consequence of their being kind and generous to friends.

Ironically, partly as a result, the relationships around them turn into disaster zones. And instead of celebrating the contentment of the fortunate ones, the friends grow bitter and envious.

It being Ayckbourn, the play fiddles about with time. The partnerships of Anthea and Richard and their friends are traced over the twelve-year period from Bonfire Night 1966 to a summer’s evening in 1978.

All the actors are excellent, stand-out performances coming from Emily Pithon (Anthea), Thorston Manderlay (Sven), Edward Harrison (Hugh) and Sally Scott (Louise).

Anthea is initially restless and hearty as if she’s thinking about hockey, but later more sophisticated. The Finnish Sven – actually with a Swedish-sounding accent – is a slight comic caricature. He’s contrary and pedantic, and increasingly poorly; you expect him to peg out before the end. Hugh, massively aware of own incompetence and the failure of his marriage and his relationship with his son, is in the end pathetic. Louise neurotic, lonely, sexually unfulfilled, and contemptuous of her husband’s uselessness as a vicar, has, by the end, tipped over into plain madness.

It’s an attractive garden set: proper tree, summer house and tennis court. But lots of action happens just off-stage: lighting fireworks – highly realistic incidentally – receiving and returning tennis balls, children being annoying. Early in the play the little blighters are particularly grating even though you don’t have to see them.

Ayckbourn’s work goes in and out of fashion. At present it seem to be in – for good reason on the evidence of this production. This isn’t a great play: it takes time to build up momentum and it ends at what might appear an arbitrary point. But it’s quintessential Ayckbourn, and this particular production has what appears to be impeccable direction from Lucy Pitman-Wallace.

Brian: Will Barton.
Melody/Mandy/Mo/Debbie: Katie Brayben.
Olive: Natasha Byrne.
Richard: Robert Curtis.
Hugh: Edward Harrison.
Sven: Thorston Manderlay.
Anthea: Emily Pithon.
Louise: Sally Scott.

Director: Lucy Pitman-Wallace.
Designer: Tom Rogers.
Lighting: Johanna Town.
Sound: Paul Dodgson.
Associate director: Zoe Waterman.

2013-02-03 20:30:18

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