Writer: Alan Ayckbourn
Music: Phil Butterfield
Director: John Cotgrave
Reviewer: Audrey Pointer
Following two years as company director of the National Theatre, Ayckbourn returned to Scarborough to direct Man of the Moment, his 35th play, which premiered in 1988. The play was inspired by thoughts about Great Train robber Buster Edwards. He had become something of a celebrity after serving his jail sentence, whereas train driver Jack Mills died from his injuries and was virtually forgotten.
Dick &Lottie, a company named after two of Ayckbourn’s background characters, are the group behind this production. Now in their tenth year, they recently produced versions of Ayckbourn’s Relatively Speaking and Life of Riley at Lawrence Batley Theatre, which proved popular enough to require additional performances to be added to the run.
The action takes place at the luxurious Mediterranean villa of former bank robber Vic Parks (played by John Cotgrave, who also directs the work). Jill Rillington (Hannah Head) is a TV producer for Their Paths Crossed – a show which reunites people who met in extraordinary circumstances in the past. In the case of Vic Parks, the reunion will be with Douglas Beechey (Richard McArtney), a bank teller who foiled Vics attempted robbery but with significant consequences for himself and his future wife.
All is set for a possibly explosive confrontation, yet Douglas proves to be far from the volatile character a TV audience would be engaged by, much to Jill’s disappointment. The way in which she, as a representative of the media, tries to manipulate Douglas in the quest to make TV that gets good ratings, is a key part of Ayckbourn’s message. Likewise, Ayckbourn makes various points about the sometimes grubby nature of celebrity and celebrities.
The most striking aspect of the set is the real swimming pool. Though not full sized of course, it is certainly big enough for swimming in and plunging into, which happens on several occasions. In fact, people sitting near the pool – including yours truly – were splashed more than once, so if you go to see the play, bear this in mind.
Costume is casual warm-weather attire in most cases although the female staff are required to wear uniforms. Douglas stands out by wearing an ensemble more suited to a British autumn than the Mediterranean, complete with corduroy jacket and jumper.
Direction is purposeful and the action rarely sags. The final twenty minutes of the play is full of surprises, almost as if Ayckbourn feels he hasn’t given us enough to mull over. The resultant changes of pace – with the play being interspersed with television rehearsals of actors playing the parts of the characters – are sharp and well directed, taking the action smoothly through the unlikely to the farcical.
Richard McArtney is superb as Douglas, an earnest portrayal of a dull but good man. His funniest moments come when he is self-consciously acting the part of himself for the TV cameras. John Cotgrave is suitably loathsome as bully Vic, and while his cockney gangster accent slips from time to time, his sense of menace is ever present. He too has some comical moments, albeit comedy of a mainly grim nature. Hannah Head is very believable as Jill, a character of little depth and little warmth whose raison d’etre revolves around TV. The moral heart of the play and a source of warmth comes from Vic’s wife Trudy (Louise Munden). She offers Douglas genuine sympathy, and expresses sincere regret for her husband’s actions, which have left Douglas’s now wife disfigured.
While certainly comical and even farcical at times, this play gives the audience plenty of food for thought about media representations, crime and punishment and the nature of celebrity in our society. On top of that, there are several surprises along the way. Though a play of the 1980s, it still seems pertinent and relevant. Dick and Lottie have ambitiously tackled a challenging play and have done so with gusto. The production ticks a lot of boxes and is well worth seeing.
Runs until: 7th June