Writer: Alan Ayckbourn
Director: Alan Ayckbourn
Reviewer: Mary Tapper
Ayckbourn has been at the centre of programming at the Stephen Joseph Theatre in Scarborough this winter. He wanted to run two plays in rep but, with a larger cast for Arrivals and Departures (his new play) than Time of My Life (a revival of an old favourite), he had actors over, who would be kicking their heels and so he revisited the idea of lunchtime play slots from when he first put plays on there, where short plays would be put on at lunchtime in the theatre restaurant while people ate. Ayckbourn wrote two new one act farces, each 40-50 mins long and they were performed in the SJT to plan. Now touring, the two are played back to back at Oxford Playhouse for a Wednesday matinée, so while not quite true to the original concept, we get the chance to see this new writing.
Chloe With Love and The Kidderminster Affair both take place in a garden setting somewhere in suburbia. They have a common cast, two couples Penny and Reggie and Lottie and Teddy. The set is simple with a trellis background, complete with roses, and a small patio with furniture and a wall to sit on.
The plots both revolve around infidelity and the difficulty of “keeping your man” and here the plays seem terribly dated. This could be forgiven if the dialogue was funny, but too often the lines are rather lame and mostly just downright dull. We are promised a farce, but the characters are very static and the physical comedy is limited and uninspiring. Occasionally there are amusing moments but the comedy is not sustained and certainly does not build to a crescendo. For the most part it is hard to sympathise, or like these couples, and you are left wondering why anyone would bother with these plays. They are too short to develop characters and not clever enough to keep us intrigued or entertained and, with the plays just quietly petering out at the end, they have a half-baked feel to them. Actors do their best with the material and all four put on a sterling show throughout, quaffing wine, barbecuing, and passing the time on a summer’s day, but in the end this feels like a rather disappointing meal….we are left thinking it is a charred steak, rather than the succulent morsels we were expecting.
Photo: Tony Bartholomew | Runs until 5th Feb and touring