by Alan Ayckbourn.
Wyndham’s Theatre To 31 August 2013.
Tue-Sat 7.30pm Mat Wed, Thu, Sat 2.30pm.
Runs 2hr One interval.
TICKETS: 0844 482 5120.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 20 May.
Inter-generational cross-purposes from the sixties shows rare skill.
By the mid-seventies critics were noticing a darker side to Alan Ayckbourn. His new (to London) play Absent Friends was set around a bereavement and was ruthless about its characters. A few years later Abigail’s Party might have been a comparison.
It was nothing to what came later – Just Between Ourselves must have the most downbeat ending of any comedy seen in the West End. It’s also amongst Ayckbourn’s finest plays, its depressive last scene ‘earned’ by the preceding farcical high-jinks.
The darkness being noticed was in contrast to a few early plays such as this. Originally seen in Scarborough, for where he wrote it, in 1965 as ‘Meet My Father’ (from a line in the second act which can still get an uproarious response), it’s an extended display of cross-purposes, where most characters spend much of the time mistaking the identity of the person they’re talking to.
It’s easy to get some laughs out of such a situation, but takes a particular ability to maintain the reality; audiences can laugh one moment and be unforgiving when reality seems too stretched. Ayckbourn searches-out every possibility while maintaining credibility, throwing in some plot and character development too.
Seamless as it seems, the script underwent major changes before and after its Scarborough and London openings, showing there’s many a slipper between creation and success (the pair of slippers grew in significance). If Lindsay Posner’s production doesn’t have quite the lightness and balance of Ayckbourn’s 2007 Scarborough revival (an entire joy) its young pair are sharply presented – Max Bennett’s Greg even on a Sunday a crisp-shirted office-worker in the making, Kara Tointon’s Ginny more complex, leading the way – a troubled Juliet to his mere Romeo.
One generation up, Felicity Kendal shows she can point a comic line or response devastatingly as the more experienced Sheila. Jonathan Coy’s Phil the philanderer reaches rather readily for emotional responses, but the evening retains a surface as sunlit as his and Sheila’s garden. And, as Tointon and Kendal make clear, Ayckbourn shows men are clumsiness itself at multi-tasking relationships, merely guessing at what every woman knows.
Greg: Max Bennett.
Ginny: Kara Tointon.
Sheila: Felicity Kendal.
Philip: Jonathan Coy.
Director: Lindsay Posner.
Designer: Peter McKintosh.
Lighting: Howard Harrison.
Sound: Matt McKenzie.
Composer: Michael Bruce.
Assistant director: Tom Attenborough.