Author and Director: Alan Ayckbourn
Reviewer: Bill Avenell
The last time I went to see an Ayckbourn play I was sadly disappointed and struggled to remember why I found his work so amusing 40 years ago. This afternoon’s production at the Minerva made me remember exactly what it was that attracted me back then; the mix of black humour, excruciating characters, some very witty dialogue and a plot so horribly close to life that you could imagine yourself involved.
Having lived through the 60’s and 70’s possibly made it more enjoyable but the reaction of a not totally grey haired audience at Chichester seemed to suggest that there was enough to amuse more than one generation in this play. And the Minerva was the ideal venue for the intimate ‘theatre in the round’ style that allowed the audience to be closely involved in a black tale woven around three drinks parties held each year on the night before Christmas and the changes in the characters’ circumstances over the three years in question.
A splendidly ‘class conscious’ set from Michael Holt provided the 3 kitchens, from formica through shabby chic to old money and, given this background, the Minerva’s atmosphere and a full house, the cast could hardly go wrong. And indeed they didn’t, giving strong performances, each one portrayed the change in their characters as the play progressed. Yes, there were a few glitches in the delivery but I particularly liked the subtle actions and expressions with which they all approached the passages which involved ‘joining in’ in some way against their better judgement. And they all had magic moments; Ayesha Antoine as Eva, recognising each new opportunity for a suicide attempt, gave a master class in acting without saying anything; Richard Stacey as her husband Geoffrey managed the transition from laid-back ladies’ man to morose failure with aplomb; Bill Champion as Ronald Brewster-Wright displayed just the right amount of weary detachment and then weary bewilderment and Sarah Parks as his wife Marion was superb when patronising the Hopcroft’s kitchen. Ben Porter played the unbelievably revolting Sidney Hopcroft horribly believably and Laura Doddington as Jane Hopcroft did a wonderful job in turning the audience’s sympathetic ‘oohs’ at her treatment by her husband in the first act into heartfelt ‘aarrghs’ as she continued to feed the alcoholic Marion ‘forfeits’ of neat gin at the end.
Alan Ayckbourn’s direction gave the performance pace throughout and helped build to a really demonic climax in the final dance scene. A moment, if not to savour, certainly to remember and a production that is well worth a visit if you get the chance.