Writer: Alan Ayckbourn
Director: Alan Ayckbourn
Designer: Kevin Jenkins
Reviewer: Ron Simpson
The welcome news at Scarborough is that the lunch-time plays in the Bistro have returned. Nowhere does better than the Stephen Joseph in supplying a varied summer programme for the theatrically inclined holiday-maker. At the moment a total of four premieres, including a children’s play, are running alongside the Kander-Ebb tribute show in a maze of scheduling. Consuming Passions’ Bistro stagings are a mix of two-plays-on-successive-days and both-plays-together before in September it moves upstairs to the McCarthy auditorium and no doubt takes on a slightly different form.
Alan Ayckbourn, with typical cunning, uses the Bistro setting to advantage. The first play, Premonitions, takes place in the Ristorante Calvinu. The second play, Repercussions, favours the bar of Mayhew’s Restaurant. The two plays stand alone, but the second is clearly a follow up to the first, so seeing both in the right order is recommended. Sadly, thanks to the vagaries of the A 64 which caused a late arrival, this review is based on Repercussions only, plus extensive enquiries of staff and audience about Premonitions.
Ayckbourn never loses his ability to surprise. In Premonitions he takes an ordinary situation, of a woman waiting for her husband in a bistro, and spins a tale of either mysterious time-shift or simple hallucination as she overhears the couple at the same table, unaware of her presence, make plans of a most sinister kind. The revelation is both final twist (to Part 1) and cliff-hanger (for Part 2).
In Repercussions Melanie, the woman overhearingattempts to warn the supposed victim who is suitably incredulous. The focus shifts from the spookily supernatural to Melanie’s mental state until the final twist leaves every question unresolved. It’s an ingenious, always enjoyable piece which leaves us questioning (in typical Ayckbourn-style) what is real. It’s also funny when Ayckbourn wants it to be.
However, overall Consuming Passions is somewhat disappointing, though it certainly is a pleasant accompaniment to soup and a sandwich. It’s oddly undeveloped: each play runs to about 30 minutes, much shorter than the predicted time in advance publicity. Repercussions consists of two short-ish scenes, followed by a sharp-intake-of-breath moment, then, just as it’s getting interesting, stops on an untypically lame punch line.
Louise Shuttleworth excels as Melanie, all neurosis and obsession and a mad flutter of words or – depending which Melanie it is in this scene – coolly controlled. The two conspirators of Part 1, Rachel Caffrey and Andy Cryer, have less to do in Repercussions, Caffrey as Cora making a brief, but stylish, appearance, Cryer doing neat turns as a waiter offering themore exotic items on Mayhew’s menu and a Police Sergeant enforcing rules of politeness on his prisoner. Leigh Symonds, two different waiters in Part 1 (there must be a doctoral thesis imminent on waiters in Ayckbourn), gets his teeth into a meatier part, the business-like businessman who may or may not be marked as a victim.
It’s a pleasure to sit in the Bistro at the Stephen Joseph Theatre watching the strange goings-on at the end table, with a dexterous manual scene change applauded as it deserves to be. Somehow, though, with Consuming Passions we get stuck at the hors d’oeuvres and are left asking for more.
Runs until 6 October 2016 | Image: Tony Bartholomew/Turnstone Media