Writer: Alan Ayckbourn
Director: Alan Ayckbourn
Reviewer: David Jobson
Alan Ayckbourn continues to be one of our most loved comic writers. Not just for the comedy but for the pain that at times seeps out of his works. In Hero’s Welcome, the humour gradually settles in and by the end the pain is dissipated by the hope of reconciliation.
Murray has returned to his home town a decorated war hero after seventeen years spent in the armed forces. He has also brought back a young refugee wife with the extraordinary name, Madrababacascabuna; Baba for short.
Richard Stacey plays Murray as a modest but optimistic bloke, possessing some nostalgia for the past. He hopes that he and Baba can settle down in his home town, and revive the hotel his family once owned in the town centre. Things prove difficult since the hotel is in a dilapidated state and about to be demolished despite its Grade 2 listing.
However, it is not the hotel he should be concerned about. Seventeen years ago when he left the town he also left behind at the altar, his pregnant love, Alice. Now Alice is Mayoress with plans to reinvigorate the town by replacing the hotel with a shopping complex and modern apartments.
Elizabeth Boag reveals Alice’s misery over what she has lost. Her marriage to Derek, played by Russell Dixon, is an unhappy one and she cannot stand his childish obsession for his model railway, which runs throughout the house.
Marital unhappiness and the treatment of women by men is the key theme here, as Ayckbourn knew only too well from his unhappy childhood. Despite the comedy that ensues, the poor mental health of the women in this play could not be more starkly portrayed.
Emma Manton plays Kara, who has to put up with her husband Brad’s callous views of women. Played by Stephen Billington, he is blunt in getting things his own way. He holds a grudge against Murray for taking Alice, the girl he once loved, and at one point bets that he can turn the tables and steal Baba away. His persona is typical of one of Ayckbourn’s larger than life characters.
Though perhaps not one of his strongest comedies, you are still presented with the usual Ayckbourn fare here. Gradually the play peels away the layers of history to reveal the deception and mistrust between the characters.
The second act takes a surprising turn as the play sets out to heal the disunity between the characters. This sudden change is manifested by the rapid turnaround in Baba’s character. Played by Evelyn Hoskins (who recently played Lisle in ITV’s The Sound of Music), she turns from an isolated refugee with a stilted delivery of English, into a loving wife with a fighting spirit. It is this confidence that helps the others open-up to her and each other.
Not everything turns out well, but the ending is quite touching. Once again Ayckbourn has much to say in his latest venture that is comic, dark and sincere. Hero’s Welcome should not be missed
Runs until 23 January ¦ Image Contributed