Writer: Alan Ayckbourn
Director: Alan Ayckbourn
Designer: Kevin Jenkins
Reviewer: Ron Simpson
Though No Knowing is far from Alan Ayckbourn at his best, it could well have an extended shelf-life as a pleasant simply-staged season’s end or festive season diversion as it is here. The cast of four get their reward for participating in the taxing Henceforward… by enjoying a pre-Christmas frolic in suburbia and Ayckbourn the master-director, so adept at making the bizarre seem natural, here has only to make the normal seem natural.
No Knowing offers only an hour of stage time, but that is divided by an interval into two named parts, the Alan Partridge-like Knowing Her and Knowing Him. Each follows the same progression: either Arthur Throke or his wife Elspeth makes a speech on the occasion of the 40th wedding celebration in August, then the action cuts back to a day shortly before Christmas the previous year with the two finishing their meal in Kevin Jenkins’ authentically conventional kitchen set. Soon their son Nigel or daughter Alison visits to present one parent with a revelation about the other before a brief scene with Arthur and Elspeth rounds off the action.
The revelations are hardly shocking. In particular, from the beginning, we guess that Arthur is up to something with that computer in the shed and Alison’s account in Part Two of his follies is actually tamer than might have been expected. Neither Arthur nor Elspeth is moved to horror by what he/she hears and the ending, while hardly sugar-coated (this is Ayckbournland, after all), is optimistic and almost affectionate.
So this is Ayckbourn at his gentlest, though no one is better than he at the portraying the routines and secrets of everyday life in the suburbs. Here the boredom that drives both of them to fairly harmless folly, enough to tweak the net curtains of the estate, is amusingly and accurately skewered in the two end-of-mealtimes. Beginning with Arthur dropping a “very nice” into the silence that follows the scrape of knives on plates, the conversation moves desultorily on to the previous owners of the butcher’s shop or, more livelily, the question of whether fish is always dry.
Russell Dixon (Arthur) and Jacqueline King (Elspeth) complement each other entertainingly, he happily moth-eaten, doing everything by routine, she adopting a more sophisticated image on her way to an assignation, but reverting to a sharp-tongued loyalty when confronted by Alison, both inhabiting the parts with no sense of theatricality. Bill Champion as Nigel bumbles convincingly through his “accusation” of his mother and flees before any possibility of a confrontation. Laura Matthews as Alison delivers a more earnest attack rather blurred by incessant consumption of biscuits and tries to get her mother to “do something”.
Despite the time shifts this is a very straightforward play by Ayckbourn standards: the significance of the timing is that the 40th wedding anniversary celebrations happen eight months after the revelations. These bits of nonsense are part of the ordinary fabric of a suburban marriage, not reasons to end it.
Runs until 24 December 2016 | Image: Tony Bartholomew/Turnstone Media