There are some plays whose writers allow enough scope for a show’s director to exercise some liberty in deciding how the various components of the show should all fit together. The stage directions in the script for Sir Alan Ayckbourn’s Time of My Life, however, are so detailed that it would be difficult to imagine it being performed any other way than as it is exactly prescribed. For instance, what looks at face value like the general hubbub of a family occasion at a local restaurant is actually all scripted, each line specifically designed to overlap another line (which itself may be overlapping yet another) at predetermined points. It’s a great example of order within what appears to be chaos.
Jason Robert Brown’s The Last 5 Years was acclaimed for its use of time within a show, with one character’s story being told in the typical way, beginning at the start, and the other character performing their narrative in reverse chronological order. Ayckbourn goes one step further in this play, making use of time past, time present and time future as different members of the Stratton family get to grips with life. It has, for the discerning, definitive echoes of JB Priestley’s writing all over it. And no, there are no ghosts or other beings from ‘the future’ that give apocalyptic warnings to earlier selves.
Both the interlinking spasms of music that accompany scene changes and the set itself are unmistakably 1980s. I think I recognised a lot of chart music tunes for the simple reason that they hailed from an era when I had the time and the inclination to listen to the radio – by contrast were the completely indistinguishable melodies of Aggie (Joey Bartram, who also, in true Ayckbourn comedy style, plays Calvinu, Tuto, Dinka and Bengie), adding yet more hilarity to a humour-laced script. The absurd accents of these restaurant staff utterly failed to irritate me.
Elsewhere, Lauren Scott-Berry as Maureen does very well at portraying the outsider to the family, a breath of fresh air in what would otherwise have been total middle class stuffiness. Hilary Derrett playing Laura is simply astounding as the Stratton matriarch, with Northern directness (though the entire clan has a bit of that, to be fair) at its finest. It’s not all laughs-a-minute; in the course of the narrative there are intriguing insights into marriage and the family, saving face and the consequences of withholding of information.
I don’t usually dispense this sort of advice – and I don’t speak from experience or anything, but do make sure you don’t go into this show on a completely empty stomach. Your enjoyment of a show entirely set in a restaurant will be undoubtedly impaired. This is Ayckbourn, after all: there are probably fewer characters that don’t get to eat than those who do across the whole of the Ayckbourn canon.
Now, there is nothing wildly out of the ordinary that happens in this play, and perhaps there lies its appeal: even the faint of heart can quite suitably be invited to a performance of the show. It is the impact of decisions made that is more of interest here The tiered seating in this theatre removes the objection of not being able to see on-stage seated characters from the back rows properly. With nothing to express reservation about, it only leaves me to say this was a full-bodied and multi-layered production, equally enjoyable and profound, with a decent reminder that few things in life should be taken at face value.
Review by Chris Omaweng
Time of my Life
by Alan Ayckbourn
presented by Rare Insight Productions
When Gerry Stratton plans a family meal out to celebrate his wife Laura’s 54th birthday, and proposes a toast to ‘happy times’, he has no idea of the events that will unfold over the course of that evening. Their elder son, Glyn, is now back together with his long-suffering wife Stephanie, and their younger son, Adam, has brought along his new girlfriend to meet the Stratton family for the first time.
Family skeletons intrude on cheerful domesticity as we get a glimpse into the past, present and future of the Stratton household. Time of My Life springs several surprises as Ayckbourn cleverly mixes tragedy and comedy in a piece that both entertains and inspires.
Following a successful run at the Tabard Theatre in 2015, Rare Insight Productions bring their critically acclaimed production to the Jack Studio.
Alan Ayckbourn is an Olivier and Tony Award winning playwright who has written 79 plays, more than half of which have been produced in London’s West End as well as around the world.
Tues 12 to Sat 30 April 2016 at 7.45pm
Additional Saturday matinee on Sat 30th at 3.30pm
Tickets: £14, £12 concs. Suitable for 12+
The Brockley Jack Studio Theatre