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REVIEW: Joking Apart by Alan Ayckbourn

15 Nov – 23 Nov 2019

So Ayckbourn is writing about a genuinely happy couple doing their best for each other and for those less fortunate than themselves.  It’s a different premise to most of his plays but there is a catch; no one else can match up.  The more Richard (Gavin Nevett) and Anthea (Tara Buchanan) effortlessly take charge and succeed, the more others see themselves as inadequate, insignificant and mediocre. The two leads perfectly captured the relaxed, natural, unpretentious pleasantness and bonhomie that trips everyone else into decline.  Buchanan’s interpretation also had an unconsciously patronising sweet smile, so lovely, and just right for easing the knife in a bit further.

The rest of the cast, and we felt for them all by the end, lined up to be shot down.  From the first appearance of Louise (Jackie Eichler) it was clear that life was not going to be straight-forward.  Bangs on bonfire night disturb her and her child bites and punches.  And husband Hugh (Mike Bendall), the vicar, isn’t really on the same wavelength and is very ponderous – not a match made in heaven.  Enter Richard’s business partner Sven (Michael Wilson) and his wife Olive (Fred Lacey).  I wasn’t sure if I liked this couple, who could only complain and speak ill of our leads.  However, such was the strength of their characterisations, and well-executed dead pan delivery of comic lines, that by the end I wanted to give them a big hug along with poor Louise and Hugh as well.  Also joining in the various gatherings were Brian (Neil Mitchell), and his range of girlfriends and then Richard and Anthea’s daughter, all roles played by Aisling Tigwell.  These were further natural performances that added to a depressing sense of reality lurking in the story.

More cheeringly, the set looked great, and the off-stage tennis court worked a treat, as did lights and sound effects, especially the bonfire night fireworks.  Movement about the stage was impressive, coping smoothly with the different levels and areas of action.  Scenes where business was taking place in various parts of the stage at the same time, often involving tennis, were made to look easy despite the difficulties this would have presented.

Director Chris Lacey undoubtedly enabled Ayckbourn’s observations on success and, more often, failure, to shine through.  We certainly laughed where intended and at times perhaps as nervously as intended….. there but for the grace of God etc. etc.

Philip Blurton

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