Writer: Alan Ayckbourn
Music: Phil Butterfield
Director: John Cotgrave
Reviewer: Audrey Pointer
Life of Riley is one of Alan Ayckbourn’s later plays, having been premièred in 2010 in Scarborough. There is a link between this play and Relatively Speaking – which is also being produced at Lawrence Batley Theatre by the company Dick &Lottie. Relatively Speaking is the ‘play within a play’ in rehearsal by a local amateur drama group. French film director and Ayckbourn fan Alain Resnais adapted Life of Riley to make his film Aimer, Boire et Chanter released in February 2014.
The play is set in a world Ayckbourn knows only too well – the world of drama. It centres around a doctor’s accidental revelation that a patient of his has a terminal illness. Word spreads, causing a ripple effect across the lives of friends and former lovers of the man who we never actually see, George Riley.
The set represents four different gardens over several months and at any one time, there are things happening, or people present, in one or more of them. Ayckbourn is well known for his creative use of theatrical space and here, he weaves the action in a complex web across the four spaces. Dick &Lottie used a bare minimum of stage props to achieve this effect.
In terms of costume, everyone wore contemporary clothing of one sort or another and there were many changes, which added to the credibility of the passage of time. Sometimes there were off-stage noises, presumably as actors scuttled into clothing but the entrances were always on cue.
The multi-space stage required a complex lighting programme and this was handled with dexterity. Direction was purposeful, utilising the stage well, although sight lines were sometimes problematic because of the nature of the space.
Maria Sykes was a very entertaining Kathryn, the secret drinker whose gossiping propels the comic action of the play forward. There was something of Victoria Wood about her performance and her lines were always well timed and well delivered. Melanie Brockway gave a solid performance as George Riley’s estranged wife, torn between her feelings for George in light of his impending demise, and her desire to build a new relationship with strong silent type Simeon (Mark Brockway). Darren Wild had a large emotional range to convey as Jack, needing to be gutted by the news of his mate’s terminal illness, sly enough to be unfaithful to his wife and also a proud and devoted father to daughter Tilly. Meanwhile, John Cotgrave, who played Colin, and Sarah Mansley, who played Tamsin, took on the challenge of performing in two different Ayckbourn plays in a day, a feat that might be daunting to lesser performers.
While not as amusing as Relatively Speaking, Life of Riley is deeper in its themes, more theatrically complex and more modern in terms of character and language. The central idea – of a character we never meet being able to influence the actions of a group of people – is dramatically engaging. This is an ideal play for theatre company Dick &Lottie to produce along with Relatively Speaking, as the two plays are soconnected. The production never flagged and several sterling performances were to be seen.
Reviewed on: 9th February 2014