Writer and Director: Alan Ayckbourn
There is no better place for a summer play than Glaisdale, buried beyond cattle grids and 1 in 4 hills, where Sheila Carter and Mark Stratton transform the Robinson Institute into the Esk Valley Theatre for pretty much the whole month of August. As friendly and efficient a set of volunteers as you could wish for tends to the needs of capacity crowds.
Unfortunately this year’s choice of play disappoints. It must have seemed like a coup when Esk Valley secured the services, as writer and director, of long-time supporter Alan Ayckbourn, but All Lies, produced in collaboration with the Old Laundry Theatre, Bowness, is, frankly, no more than pleasant.
In his introduction Sir Alan explains that he wanted to write a play about lying, not the “massive lies” associated with Presidents and Prime Ministers, but “those harmless, rather pathetic little everyday lies” we all tell to improve our image. Can they be used in a good cause? Are they automatically a bad thing?
Posy Capstick goes, untypically, to the Last Night of the Proms and meets and falls for trouser salesman Sebastian Goodfellow – surely that name’s a giveaway! He, likewise, falls for her and claims to be a cellist with the Halle Orchestra to impress her. He, incidentally, has some knowledge (but no skill) in music, she is totally ignorant, a blank sheet of paper to be written on.
As time goes on, he claims to be a spy, she manufactures a birthday and lots of little lies spiral out of control until the great day when she invites him to spend time in the vast country house her family apparently owns. The truth comes out, but to what effect? After all they are two nice young people in love!
One suspects that the play must have been sketched out at the time of social distancing because the cast, for three quarters of the play, sit totally separate at three tables writing letters. Posy starts it off, recounting to a friend the joy of meeting a cellist at the Prom, then Seb picks it up, explaining his adventure to his sister Sonia who responds increasingly wittily and caustically to his letters. Only in the last quarter do we see Seb and Posy face to face, but on opposite sides of the table, in their favourite coffee bar.
Saskia Strallen is charming as Posy, her accent cut glass, the hints that this is not the first time neatly planted. Luke Dayhill, more rough-hewn, has a cheerfully apologetic manner that fits well with Rhiannon Neads’ increasingly weary responses as Sonia – her girl friend Bobbie is the best of the unseen characters: “P.S. Bobbie says…” becomes a sure sign of something wickedly dismissive.
At the end of the evening you realise that you have witnessed a skilfully written, well acted radio play. It’s Ayckbourn’s 86th full-length produced play, but not one that will live in the memory. Number 87, Family Album, will be staged a few miles down the coast in Scarborough next month!
Runs until 27th August 2022.