Writer: Alan Ayckbourn
Director: John Cotgrave
Reviewer: Ruth Jepson
You mustn’t talk like that about invisible people. You mustn’t wish ‘em dead!
What would you do if your invisible friend not only became suddenly visiblebut also offered to take you away from your boring, grumpy, cares-about-anything-but-you family? Would you stay, or would you wish that your parents and brother would just … disappear? This is the choice that Lucy must make in Alan Ayckbourn’s Invisible Friends, showing this week at the Lawrence Batley Theatre, running alongside a second Ayckbourn play, Woman in Mind.
Ayckbourn has broken away from typeand tackled a show largely aimed at children and their families (the programme suggests age seven plus, although the audience on opening night is comprised wholly of adults). The social commentary has a strong presence, although it has been simplified for its intended younger audience, allowing the actors to stretch their styles, switching between kitchen sink realism and comedic exaggeration. There is much hilarity watching Maria Styles (mother Joy), John Cotgrave (father Walt, also the director) and Adam Watson (brother Gary) transition between perfect fantasies and perfect horrors. Phil Butterfield and Iwan Noble as the invisible father Felix and invisible brother Chuck, are often skin-crawlingly creepy in their earnest enthusiasm at leading Lucy to her somewhat predictable final revelations. The two main characters themselves, Lucy (Alice Scholes) and invisible friend Zara (Laura Roberts) both come alive in the second actwhen the script leans more towards action over the narrated story of the first act.
Although the actors cope well with a promenade style set (Scholes working the double sided audience particularly well), a lot of the action cannot be easily seen by audience members on the back row. The sound is also occasionally a touch too loud for those sat near the speakers, drowning out the actors’ dialogue in the small Syngenta Cellar space.
Despite minor flaws, Invisible Friends is an enjoyable show, often provoking laughter in the viewer. There are moments when themagic happensand set pieces move of their own accord, however, it would appeal more to the younger audience it is intended for, as some scenes drag a little for the adults watching who are able to see the joke ahead. Ultimately, this is a feel-good show; although a little extra polishing would take it a long way.
Runs until Saturday 17 September 2016 (alternates performances with Woman in Mind) | Image: Contributed