Writer: Alan Ayckbourn
Director: Robin Herford
Reviewer: Audrey Pointer
Bedroom Farce was originally produced in Scarborough in 1975 and was followed by a famous National Theatre production, directed by Peter Hall. In the programme notes, Ayckbourn recalls how some people were unimpressed by this “commercial candy floss” being presented at such an eminent institution. However, the play has outlived such criticism and is a very popular choice for both the professional and amateur stage. This current production is a collaboration between Harrogate Theatre and Oldham Coliseum.
The play takes place in three bedrooms, all of which are on stage simultaneously, in a two tiered set. Four married couples spend a night and the following morning in the rooms, preparing for social events and working on various aspects of their relationships. Interestingly, and unusually for a bedroom farce, the two most predictable activities of the bedroom, namely sleeping and marital relations are all but absent. Having the three rooms on stage at the same time – though potentially demanding in terms of set design – allows the action to be intercut between them as required, particularly important as some of the scenes are very short.
Michael Holt’s set design means the audience has a clear view of all the action. Ernest and Delia’s bedroom is above the other two and set back. Nick and Jan’s is stage right and Malcolm and Kate’s is stage left. This production is set in the 1990s rather than the 70s and the rooms are styled accordingly, although one room is “in need of redecoration” as Ayckbourn tactfully puts it. Jane Barrek’s lighting design encompasses the general principle of lighting a room when action takes place and having it in darkness otherwise. Director Robin Herford has obviously spent time getting his cast to extract maximum meaning from a script that is full of fairly common expressions and banter, rather than the purple passages of some playwrights. Consequently, the stresses, pauses and comic timing are impeccable.
Antony Eden is very entertaining as the self-centred Trevor. His first main speech, about commitment, is artfully conveyed. Trevor is central to the flow of the action, as is Susannah, played by Laura Doddington. She, a neurotic woman lacking confidence, is the other half of the couple whose actions break up a party and keep all the other couples awake with their relationship troubles. Lynette Edwards as Delia is very assured. Henry Devas as Malcolm and Catherine Kinsella as his wife Kate are charming DIY-ers, who begin to examine their own marriage after contact with Trevor and Susannah. Robin Simpson as Nick spends most of the play in bed, as his character Nick has injured his back, but his rendition of a man with back pain is comically portrayed. Chris Wilkinson is very likeable as the put-upon husband Ernest, and Maeve Larkin as Jan is just right as a woman who has limited sympathy for her ailing husband and lingering feelings for her former lover Trevor.
The play isn’t really a farce but it’s definitely a comedy. It’s a gentle comedy in which Ayckbourn skilfully weaves his observations of married couples, with plenty of laughs on the way. Warm, witty and well structured, it’s a play that will appeal to many and this production has much to commend it.
Runs until: 8th March.