Writer: Alan Ayckbourn
Director: Robin Herford
Reviewer: Michael Gray
Here we are, into the second of the four linked plays chosen to feature across the Made in Colchester season. If you missed Events on a Hotel Terrace, you’ll not know that all 16 possible combinations start with How It Began and the butterfly-effect decision: to smoke or not to smoke.
This time, we move on to A Visit from a Friend, through Confessions in A Garden Shed, to A One Man Protest (the meat of this piece) and the final choice, which turns out to be … no, you need to discover that one for yourself, as the shed and the decking disappear to reveal a deserted churchyard.
This one is mostly about Miles. Chair of Governors, well-meaning, unhappily married to the serially unfaithful Rowena. A perfectly observed character – I’m sure I’ve met him – superb as he rehearses his speech to the Board, and much later his reunion with the children he’s not seen for five years. “Why does it always happen to me,” he asks, like many another Ayckbourn anti-hero. He’s the almost innocent object of the two attempted seductions in Act One, and even the third, mock seduction is for his benefit, really, though by this time he’s locked himself in the shed, living like an anchorite, but with room service, and the three women in his life loitering outside, each of them convinced that the lines from Wordsworth refer to her.
And of course all three are played, heroically, by Ruth Gibson, swapping wigs and characters in a trice. Apart from the silly, childish (but not especially ”bovine”) Rowena, she’s also the brisk Celia, whose garden this is, and the vacuous Sylvie, Mrs Bell’s eldest, the skivvy who comes round to the idea of coastal walking with Miles.
He’s played by Gwynfor Jones, who makes memorable appearances in two supporting rôles: Toby (Celia’s hard-drinking headteacher husband), not so much an “incoherent slob” as a boorish, Cleesey character in a flat cap, and the loutish Lionel, school groundsman, proving his prowess by running on the spot in his Superman undies.
Robin Herford’s production is perfectly judged – just enough farce, plenty of raw humanity too, and comedy that comes naturally from the characters. And technically it all works brilliantly, bar one sticky moment with the smouldering shed.
Two more Intimate Exchanges to come, featuring the same cast of characters – A Pageant in May, and A Game of Golf in June. And if you missed Lionel’s cream teas in the first offering, Events on a Hotel Terrace will be revived for three shows only at the end of April.