Writer: Alan Ayckbourn
Director: Robin Herford
Reviewer Sue Collier
Alan Aykbourn skilfully presents the never ending story of the gradual corruption of innocence using humour descending into pathos.
After an act of genuine kindness, a kind young woman is corrupted by aging villain/pimp ‘Uncle’ Val. Material rewards are received as reciprocated kindness. To the audience it is clear that Val is grooming Sasha. Paul Webster plays convincingly sinister Uncle Val and delivers some acerbic comments e.g. describing his nephew as “Nice boy – all the intellect of a fridge magnet”. The impression is gained of Ayckbourn possibly using humour to make the audience question if Val is indeed the villain we suspect him to be – to some extent Val may be trying to groom the audience also.
As Val pours on the goodies we see Sasha’s appearance change. Not only dressing in expensive clothing, and being taken in a Rolls Royce to the opera with Val. She starts to sound like him. Her values and morals plummet.
Sasha’s half-sister Chloe (a less sympathetic character than Sasha) has an unhappy relationship with her boyfriend Zack. The amusing rôle of Chloe at times may have benefitted from being toned down a notch in this production.
Val’s control of Sasha continues; of her career, rent, and decoration of her home. He also arranges for Zack to be cruelly assaulted. Chloe calls Val a dirty old man and tells Sasha she will eventually pay for his ‘kindnesses’ to her. Neighbour Ashley also warns Sasha against Val but she sees only generosity.
The age old question here is why young women in such situations cannot recognise they are being manipulated yet others around them can? Throughout life, many of us may have met young women in such situations, yet unlike many vulnerable young girls, Sasha was not a desperate young woman with no-one to turn to. In fact before meeting Val, she had enjoyed a happy family life, loving parents and career aspirations. Is it merely the trappings of wealth and excitement that appeal? A slight twist to the tale develops here, with both aging neighbour Ashley and ‘Uncle’ Val competing for the affections of Sasha whose sexual allure eventually overpowers each of them.
The truth will out. Sasha holds a dinner party during which she starts to feels let down and ignored by her guests. Here, Heather Phoenix delights the audience with her amusingly vulgar performance of former working girl Charmaine. Val’s unappealing side is presented to Sasha when he pressurises her to sing, (a powerful scene which makes one wince at Sasha’s vulnerability). She sings a moving rendition of Nobody’s Heart Belongs to Me and we now view a lonely Sasha with much reduced self esteem. When Sasha hears Chloe has fallen in front of a train, Val’s denial of any involvement finally causes her to question his credibility.
First presented in 2003 as a theatre in the round production, this production was well presented with effective and colourful stage settings. The transformation of Sasha’s flat in Act two made the audience first gasp then giggle.
This is a fast paced production with no time to get bored. The challenging rôle of Sasha appears in every scene. Her innocent vulnerability was played convincingly though a number of minor dialogue mistakes were made. A more emotionally powerful production than originally anticipated.