Theatre Royal Windsor (venue)
08 October 2019 (released)
08 October 2019
This Alan Ayckbourn comedy was written in 1977 during a time of political unrest in the UK that echoes the seething turmoil we’re living through today. The characterised depiction of polarised hot heads on both the left and right and the bumbling ordinary folk crouching in the middle, ducking to avoid the crossfire, certainly makes the revival of this play apposite.
The play unfolds in the dilapidated Swan Hotel where a group of leading local lights are gathering to plan a pageant to drive awareness of a little-known historical event in their village, the massacre of the Pendon Twelve. Anyone who has sat in a committee meeting will recognise the pain of gathering together a motley assortment of people to try to reach a consensus and shared plan of action. We know how these mind-numbing experiences can, at best, be a pointless waste of time and at worst, a shocking revelation of people’s true characters and the rifts that can become gaping canyons between us. Ayckbourn cleverly taps into the comic potential of this scenario.
One of the funniest elements of this well observed play is how each person is changed by their involvement in the committee. Underneath the smooth cool waters of their civilised public persona, other more deep-seated personality traits stir and rumble until they’re heated up to boiling point and burst out.
We have the initially quiet-mannered, brown clad socialist school teacher, Eric (played by Craig Gazey) rise up to angrily claim rights for the people against the stridently Thatcher-esque Helen (Deborah Grant). The committee is led by Helen’s husband Ray, an engagingly affable but utterly ineffectual ‘everyman’ brilliantly portrayed by Robert Daws. Gemma Oaten’s sophisticated and confident Sophie becomes an excitable doting groupie for the impassioned Eric. This draws a jealous response from Tim (Harry Gostelow) who transforms from a wellie clad country bumpkin into a pistol wielding military madman. Rhiannon Handy’s Philippa is Eric’s mouse voiced partner who darts about the set fixing malfunctioning costumes. Mark Curry’s middle-aged Donald is a Mummy’s boy at heart and Elizabeth Power, as his 80year old mother Audrey, seems deaf and confused at first but is revealed to be the most lucid of the characters.
With this multitude of voices, it was a challenge to keep up with what was happening at times but I was buoyed by the tumultuous riot being entertainingly performed in front of me. This play moves deftly from verbal sparring in the first half to fast paced visual gags as it canters through the second act. Few comedies live up to the hype of being called ‘hilarious’ but this one is genuinely very funny. Definitely worth seeing if you’re after a light hearted rib tickler that touches our current political nerve.
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