There are few better-known names in British theatre than that of (Sir) Alan Ayckbourn and many of his published play-texts are popular on the amateur theatrical circuit. One such is this two-act drama from 2001, which originally formed part of a triptych of plays called Damsels in Distress.
Maybe Ayckbourn is an acquired taste or perhaps this is not one of his best, but by the end of the first scene (at least half an hour) I was losing the will to live. The performances themselves – John Sivewright as Justin, and Hannah-Rosie Tointon as Julie(-Ann) – were fine. It was good to see Fiona Richards, whose debut in Plays ‘n’ Chips I saw in September, as the former lap-dancer, Paige, but this section was just rather long-winded, mostly lacking in humour and a bit dull. I’m not sure what the director or the performers can do to liven it up when it’s in the script (answers on a postcard, please). The most exciting event was when Bob Rankin as Paige’s ‘minder’, Micky, whipped out a gun and uttered a threat accompanied by an expletive, whereupon a lady at the back of the audience made a hasty exit muttering something, presumably unscripted, which I couldn’t quite hear.
The pace and humour picked up when Julie(-Ann)’s parents (Suzanne Viney as the indecisive Dee, and the excellent Peter Watson as the archetypal bluff Yorkshireman, Derek Jobson) arrived. There was much hilarity for a while when Jill Darling, as Justin’s mother, arrived in a drunken state (in which she mostly remained) and proceeded to confuse the lap-dancer with Justin’s boring girlfriend and insult everybody to boot – but ultimately the play grinds to a somewhat mawkish and unconvincing halt.
There were creditable performances from the cast of seven, the set was excellent, the lighting and sound effects of the storm outside were good. There were also some nice touches in the direction: I liked the silent argument taking place outside on the balcony (on the other side of a sliding door with no glass in it) and a similar vignette in which Julie(-Ann) carried on silently criticising Justin’s washing-up behind a foreground conversation.
Ayckbourn fans may love the material. I wasn’t impressed, although Broadstone Players took a good run at it.
Future performances: 16-19 November at 7.45.