Back to the theatre of the seventies we go with Ayckbourn’s latest at the Playhouse. Back to middle-class six-handers on the seemingly unremitting problems that spill from a comfortable marriage. Back to the hackneyed set up of a character entering/leaving to sow discord on remnants. Back to affairs and regret and recriminations. Back to wave upon wave of ceaseless grim mediocrity. Back to another tired evaluation of the pangs of a plain British life. Back to the straight-jacket of a structure consisting of three acts, repeating the same scene at all of the beginnings.
My negative reaction to The Life of Riley jarred badly with tonight’s audience. My feelings were clearly out of step with the appreciative laughter that was always readily available. It seemed that I was one of only two people present who felt that this was a dull example of a style of theatre whose time has long since past. It was not the fault of any of the actors, Kim Wall displays sure-footed comic timing and Laura Doddington is sometimes enjoyably brassy as Tamsin.
It is the script that is to blame. It is as if anything dynamic that has happened in the last forty years in theatre had never been. The character of Simeon is written as an abominably simple yokel who looks like he might be unable to point to the sky if asked. The three female characters are flimsy ciphers that bafflingly swing between mooning like teenagers for a symbol of youth and vitality, and crawling haltingly back toward their painful domesticity.
The take-away message seems to be that you sacrifice the freedom to be a libertine when you get married. I know that, you know that, the tonight’s audience knows that and everyone involved in this production knows that. It’s time to move on.