Posted 20 September 2012 - 10:41 AM
Saw this last night, 3rd preview. Ten pound day seat, first row, good view of the stage which has been slightly elevated for this production but no complaints. Running time was 2 hours 40 minutes so Pharaoh's skepticism was justified. It looked to be a full house.
This is a large production for an Ayckbourn play - 18 actors, 2 extended fight scenes, 6 different sets trundling on and off while actors create diversions down front. And of course much singing and dancing since The Beggar's Opera is the play within this play. For a 3rd preview it flowed well although the timing is not quite there, especially in scenes not involving Rob Brydon.
Brydon, playing the uber-Welsh director Dafydd Ap Llewellyn, is hilarious and quite brilliant throughout. Every time he comes on the show elevates a notch. Not to say the other cast members are not good. Nigel Harmon is fine as Guy Jones, the newcomer to the group, but he's hampered by a character that doesn't quite make sense. Ashley Jensen is also good as the hard-pressed Mrs. ap LLewellyn and rises to the occasion for her big (for this play) emotional scenes.
My problems were with the play itself which seems slight even for Alan Ayckbourn. An amateur theatrical group is a great setting for a comedy but it has not produced a great play. Characters are stereotypes and situations feel contrived. There's a subplot about a swinger couple - well played by Paul Thornley and Daisy Beaumont - that feels dragged in from another show just to provide some sexy hilarity. Another subplot about a land deal feels equally shoehorned in. I also had an issue with the ending which, given the structure of the piece, turned out to be a problem Ayckbourn could not solve.
The rehearsal scenes, though, are genuinely funny, thanks mainly to Mr. Brydon, and since they constitute the bulk of the play there's much enjoyment to be had. And, to be fair, the audience response at the curtain calls was very loud and very positive.