by Alan Ayckbourn.
New Vic Theatre Etruria Road ST5 0JG To 5 November 2011.
Audio-described/Captioned 1 Nov.
Runs 2hr 40min One interval.
TICKETS: 01782 717962.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 18 October.
Social fragmentation and tensions with comic coating.
Travelling from its original ‘hood, Scarborough (where it opened last month) Alan Ayckbourn’s new play brings the cast of his Chekhov adaptation Dear Uncle (which itself transported Russia to the Lake District) to the Potteries. Uncle wasn’t seen here – a pity, for there’s a pleasure in seeing these actors play variations upon, or provide contrasts between, their roles in the two.
For all the differences, it’s the similar strains that point to Ayckbourn as an English Chekhov, with laughs. And suspense; for all his comic reputation, Ayckbourn’s plays have shown an increasing use of plot tension, uncovering some murky middle-class ways. These people are not cut off by countryside, but these people decide to make themselves an improvised gated community, avoiding the threats they perceive from a nearby estate, in a soured version of Passport to Pimlico.
It’s a fantasy, as was the Ealing film, which Ayckbourn pushes towards the edge of credibility when the police need the locals’ permission to enter. They see the law as seen as siding with offenders, while Rod (Terence Booth, Ayckbourn’s ever-reliable heavy) believes in making his own law, heightening the sense of threat.
Compared with the suburban paranoia of Jez Butterworth’s Parlour Song (also seen in Yorkshire, at York Theatre Royal’s Studio, this summer) it’s a more straightforward, sometimes slow-paced approach. Aspects recall Ayckbourn’s early comedies in the observation of people’s behaviour, but things are no longer so relaxed for the play to assume that way of life is secure.
There are echoes from other Ayckbourns along the way: the nightmare of tolerant middle-class England facing new aggression in Way Upstream, the sexual exoticism lurking behind the garden-hedges in A Chorus of Disapproval.
And most of all, liberal-minded Martin (Mathew Cottle smilingly reasonable) being led towards an autocratic style, accepting the help of violent people, recalls A Small Family Business.
Events are surrounded by a speech from Martin’s sister Hilda, that’s starts as paean and ends with a revelation which Alexandra Mathie’s buttoned-up characterisation prepares for magnificently. If only things had been left there, without the comic misfire of the final visual image.
Dorothy: Eileen Battye.
Rod: Terence Booth.
Luther: Phil Cheadle.
Martin: Matthew Cottle.
Gareth: Richard Derrington.
Amy: Frances Grey.
Magda: Amy Loughton.
Hilda: Alexandra Mathie.
Director: Alan Ayckbourn.
Designer: Pip Leckenby.
Lighting: Mick Hughes.