It is more than twenty years since the premiere of Time of My Life; however, although the décor, clothing and hairstyles are clearly rooted in a bygone and largely unregretted era, the themes of family politics, love, betrayal and financial distress are as apposite and relevant today as they would have been then.
As the play opens we find the Stratton family ensconced in their local Italian restaurant, a scruffy and chaotic locale which has provided the backdrop for their engagements, wakes, celebrations and family reunions for the past thirty years. Tonight they have congregated to celebrate the birthday of Laura, their blunt, imperious and all-powerful matriarch. Sitting around the table with Laura are: her husband Gerry, a pleasant and unimaginative leisure centre developer; her feckless and “creative” younger son Adam, who has brought along his semi-official fiancée, hairdresser Maureen; and her pompous, self-regarding elder son Glyn, accompanied by his wallflower wife Stephanie, with whom he has recently reconciled.
This particular dinner is clearly going to be momentous in some way. The tension between Glyn and Stephanie is palpable, Laura and Gerry are very obviously at odds over the future of their sons, who are both, in their own way, desperate to please their mother, and Laura barely tries to conceal her contempt for the hapless Maureen, who is so desperate to make a good impression on her boyfriend’s family that she accidentally gets drunk with disastrous results. Interesting though these dysfunctional relationships are, will this meal be enough to sustain the entire play?
As it turns out, it will. Whilst Ayckbourn does leave us stuck in the odd little restaurant, he expertly interweaves three timelines; as Laura and Gerry remain frozen at the table in the present, Glyn and Stephanie take their place at a small side table in the future, whilst Adam and Maureen re-enact the preamble to their engagement at another table in the past. The more we learn, the more entwined the three skeins become, until all three are finally sewn together and the tapestry is complete.
Although the physical concept is contrived, the set feels cosy and natural rather than artificial, and the appearance and disappearance of the various characters flows smoothly. Law Ballard wisely directs with a light touch, avoiding clumsy conceits and modernisations. The only slight criticism would be that the lighting fade-outs were a little over-prolonged, sometimes leaving the actors with no words left to say, staring awkwardly at each other in the gathering gloom. Snappier changes would also have made the time jumps cleaner.
The four waiters, all played with supreme comedy timing and talent by Adam Wittek, provide welcome light relief from the drama, as well as throwing the family into bas-relief by providing the point of view of an “outsider”. David Lucas is very good as the baffled and beleaguered Gerry, and Tansy Adair takes Stephanie on a touching and courageous emotional journey, which cannot fail to resonate with many women. Lucy Formby brought subtle depths to Maureen, a character which could so easily be reduced to parody; her bright, endearing vivacity and vulgarity is reminiscent of Beatrice Dalle in Betty Blue.
The script is classic Ayckbourn, witty, wry and genuine, and despite the volubility not a word is wasted. The cast deal with the nuances and implications deftly, occasionally slipping accents notwithstanding. Points are made and hints are dropped with admirable delicacy, nothing is overstated and the audience are left to draw their own conclusions.
The principal idea behind the play is slipped into the mix with just such subtlety; can we ever really know if we are truly happy in the present? Is it only ever in retrospect that we realise that we were, indeed, having the “time of our lives”?
There is no real answer to that. However, this production is a delight, a fact of which I was well aware at the time.
Review by Genni Trickett
Time of My Life by Alan Ayckborun
Directed by Law Ballard
When eating out, why is it that the next table’s conversation
is often so much more interesting?
When Gerry Stratton plans a family meal out with his two grown up sons to celebrate his wife, Laura’s 54th birthday and proposes an almost prophetic toast to ‘happy times’, he has no idea of the events that would 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, an outrageous hairdresser, to meet the Stratton family for the first time.
Family skeletons intrude on cheerful domesticity as we get a glimpse of Glyn and Stephanie’s story unfolding in the future scenes. Meanwhile at another table in the same restaurant, Adam and Maureen’s story is ingeniously played out in reverse chronology, with Gerry and Laura remaining in the present time unpicking their marriage and recalling first love. Time of My Life springs several surprises.
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.
Featuring John Pickard as Glyn (known as Dominic Reilly in Hollyoaks, and David Porter in BBC Sitcom: 2Point 4 Children), Time of My Life plays for a limited run at the Tabard Theatre.
Setting: Restaurant ‘Essa de Calvi’ in West Yorkshire.
Time: 10.30 pm on a Saturday in January, late 1980s.
The scenes in the Restaurant switch between the present, the past and the future throughout the play.
Director: Law Ballard
Set Designer: Paul Lunnon
Scenic Artist: Chiara Pecchioli
Lighting Designer: Joshua Sung
Sound Designer: Lesley Willis
Costume Designer: Bonnie Adair
Gerry, a businessman: David Lucas
Laura, his wife: Joanna Pope
Glyn, their elder son: John Pickard
Adam, their younger son: Joe Leather
Stephanie, Glyn´s wife: Tansy Adair
Maureen: Lucy Formby
Restaurant owner and waiters: Adam Wittek
Time of My Life
3 – 28 March 2015
Tue – Sat 7:30pm
Saturday Matinees 3:30pm
Running time is Approximately
2 hours 25 mins including an interval
Please note: John Pickard will not be performing on Thursday 12th or 26th March, nor on the Saturday Matinees on 7th and 21st March. Oliver Hewitt will be his understudy on those performances.
Friday 6th March 2015