Improbable Fiction

Lyndhurst Drama & Musical Society  The Vernon Theatre, Lyndhurst Darren Funnell

28 October 2023

Wow. I never thought I would be going to bed with images of a goblin in a nut, with literary characters waving buttercup umbrellas singing ‘La La La’ to an unfinished song from ‘Pilgrim’s Progress -The Musical’, but there you go.

Improbable Fiction by Alan Ayckbourn, that played this week at Lyndhurst Drama and Musical Society, revolves around a group of aspiring writers who come together for their weekly meeting at the Pendon Writers’ Circle. As the evening progresses, the characters’ stories come to life in unexpected and comical ways, blurring the lines between reality and fiction.

The production team’s astute design and character development contribute to a cracking show. Act 1 establishes the setting of the Writers’ Circle meeting, providing insight into the group’s routine and the dynamics of their interactions. Mince Pie anyone? Initial discussions among the characters create a sense of anticipation and curiosity, setting the stage for the imaginative twists that occur in Act 2. And then it is like Ayckbourn has thrown his pages in the air, consumed copious amounts of LSD and just let the imagination fly. Fabulous!

There is an important message here about just engaging in the process and working together to bring a story together. Before you think this is high art, the heightened comical, frankly quite mad, way this plays out, as fragments of each writer’s ‘work in progress’ blend together, is a delight. I haven’t laughed so much in years. The line work, slick costume changes, right down to the disappearing/reappearing phone, show excellent technical proficiency and a production team/cast having a ball.

Phil Rainforth gives Arnold, the well-intentioned Chair (not Chair ‘man’) of the writers circle a bumbling charm, a well-meaning enthusiasm (not always reciprocated) and demonstrates the power of underplayed, dead-pan comedy to mature effect. Hannah Rogers’ Ilsa is Arnold’s muse, stepping into the other writer’s works because Arnold wants her there. Hannah is splendid – blending kindness, with a certain innocence, and a bread knife.

Di Buck (Jess) is wonderful as the conflicted writer, who can’t get pen to paper for her historical romances and then equally wonderful being stitched up by having to narrate Victorian prose. Richard Bartlett (Brevis) has the comedy chops to skilfully express disdain, scepticism and frustration, which heightens the silliness and absurdity in Act 2 as his annoyance at Clem’s confused vocabulary plays out, amongst other highlights.

Vic Milne’s (Clem) boredom with the writer circle is played out with great armchair physicality – until Science Fact livens him up – and then in the barmy section he is quite – well – er – barmy. He really shines when he delivers the ‘glasses’ murderer reveals in the Agatha Christie nod. Ingrid Bond is excellent throughout. An artist, rather than a writer, she sets up the finale brilliantly with goblin art (“That’s a large buttercup”) and then throws herself into character after character. She does a good line in looking guilty, too. Finally, Cally van der Pauw (Vivvi) is a sparky performance, which brings energy to the group due to her larger-than-life personality and love of men.

Stevie Parker, as first-time director, sensibly took all the creative talents around her, went all ‘organic’ and look how that worked out. The production team were a standout in all the various elements they had to achieve both on and off stage. They should all be applauded.

So, Improbable Fiction, at Lyndhurst, was a delightful and insightful exploration of the creative process, laced with humour, wit, and a touch of magic delivered by an expert and excellent production and company.

Which, of course, brings me back to the nut. It was one heck of a nut. Truly.