DramaNorth East & YorkshireReview

Family Album – Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough

Reviewer: Ron Simpson

Writer and Director: Alan Ayckbourn

For Family Album, his 87th play, Alan Ayckbourn plays tricks with time and space. The setting is 27 Byfield Crescent, SW19, between the years of 1952 and 2022, incorporating three scenes, moving in, moving out and a chaotic birthday party in 1992. The events of all three recur, overlap and pattern themselves so they ultimately all inform each other.

The living room is marked out with illuminated lines, different colours for different periods, with white for those indeterminate times when two or more periods occur simultaneously. In the beginning two long-suffering removal men fill the empty space with furniture according to the fussy indecision of Peggy Stanton – and, later, the gentle imperiousness of her husband. At the end, the removal men – less deferential than the 1952 model – empty the stage under the direction of Peggy’s granddaughter Alison.

The cast (omitting removal men!) consists of four women and one man, reflecting the emphasis on the changing role of women – the man is necessary to point up women’s subservient role in 1952. The play begins with an appearance of equality (John Stanton is all “darlings”, he gives way doubtfully on trivial things), but his armchair is his armchair and he can get his own way with an “I don’t think so, darling.” In Act 1, decisions are comparatively trivial, but late in the play he dismisses Peggy’s rather feeble attempt to persuade him that their daughter Sandra is university material – a decision with widespread consequences. Georgia Burnell, charming and brittle as Peggy, and Antony Eden, concealing his certainty beneath a teddy bear exterior, are both pitch-perfect.

Occasional eruptions through the first half see Frances Marshall as a hippy Sandra keeping the children back in the kitchen, attempting to mop up trifle off the walls, frantically trying to keep tabs on her husband, shooing the children into the garden, directing their parents in the same direction – and turning the air blue with her language! She is very funny, wrestling with the kitchen door (all exits and entrances are simply indicated by sound), but in Act 2, the humour lessens, the explanations and sad consequences emerge.

Finally in Act 2, the granddaughter Alison (she whose birthday party it was back in 1992) reviews 27 Byfield Crescent, before removal. The role of women has changed to the extent that she is with her partner Jess. Both Elizabeth Boag and Tanya-Loretta Dee play their parts with understated affection.

At his best Ayckbourn’s direction seems so natural that you wonder whether it is deliberate or accidental – it’s deliberate! Here the wanderings on and off of characters who don’t speak gives a sense of linking together the different times in the same way that picking up a carving fork is a way into a dissertation on the rituals of middle-class Sunday lunch.

Runs until 1st October 2022.

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