There’s probably not many better ways to spend a lunch break than at the wonderful St. James Theatre Studio watching a brace of delightful comedies by two of our most esteemed playwrights. Lightbox Theatre’s expert staging delicately and subtlely tickles our fantasies and pushes all our self-recognition buttons.
First off is Countdown by the Master Craftsman: Alan Ayckbourn was our most prolific and popular playwright of the latter part of last century and his work clearly endures as witnessed by the current revival of How The Other Half Loves at the Theatre Royal, Haymarket and the fact that his seventy-ninth play (yes, you read that right) “Hero’s Welcome” has just opened in New York.
Countdown is a comédie de mœurs directed by Lora Davies that had the packed audience at first smirking, followed by chuckling, then guffawing through to collective intakes of breath and shifting slightly uneasily in seats with the lightbulb moment that the Other People of the overall title are actually us.
Both Clive Hayward as the Husband and Sherry Baines as the Wife, under Davies’s astute direction, pull off that difficult feat of sharing their audible thoughts to the audience whilst continuing the dreary, mundane conversation with their partner sitting right next to them. Rather than mere asides the thoughts become a kind of parallel dialogue with themselves, yes, but more importantly with the audience as a dramatic device to completely draw us in.
As Hayward’s long-suffering Husband privately bitches and Baines’s even-more-long-suffering Wife secretly schemes in their own personal wall-to- wall-carpetted, double-glazed, John-Lewis- furnished private suburban hell we see not so much a juice-drained, stale-bread, mid-life- crisis, menopausal marital cul-de- sac as a comfort blanket of failed dreams. And therein lies the darkness that, under the comedy, is the trademark of all Ayckbourn’s work.
Hayward and Baines make us cringe, wince, shudder and necessarily laugh because otherwise we would stand up and shout “F*cking hell, that’s me up there!”.
The second piece, Mill Hill by John Mortimer the Barrister-turned-playwright who penned such classics as “The Dock Brief” and “A Voyage Round My Father”, is an everyday story of fetishy-folk. Emma Faulkner, Artistic Director of Lightbox Theatre, with clever and effective direction, allows us a little glimpse into the Pandora’s Box of suburban secrets. This is a props-and-costumes romp, an actors’ dream of a play, an if-we’re-having-fun-so-will-the-audience scenario – which actually doesn’t always work out like that but in this piece a strong cast ensures that it isn’t overplayed or that they have too much fun at our expense.
Michael J. Fox lookalike (in his bonnet) Carl Prekopp is excellent as wannabe Walter Raleigh, Peter Trilby, complete with appropriately phallicistic sword and difficult to undo cloak (try velcro?). Paul Kemp, as on-the- cusp cuckoldee Roy Blundell, is all beard and bombast, finding the right balance between innocence and belligerence. Star of the show though is the sublimely so-nearly-louche, erotica-fancying, bored middle-class housewife Denise played to the hilt – literally at some points – by the suburbanly-seductive Clare Lawrence Moody. Cast and director pace the play convincingly frothing it up to the farcical boiling point at the play’s climactic denouement.
Thoroughly entertaining Other People is a great way to set up your afternoon’s work, or play, or your everyday routine or, even perhaps, your own personal private peccadillo that you always assumed other people would not know about. It’s fun and it’s true and it’s well worth a visit.
Review by Peter Yates
Lightbox Theatre brings to light stories which are untold or overlooked.
Other People is the first in our Lunchtime Shorts series, which aims to introduce audiences to overlooked works by some of our best-loved playwrights.
Countdown by Alan Ayckbourn
Directed by Lora Davies
Mill Hill by John Mortimer
Directed by Emma Faulkner
20th to 25th June 2015