One great thing about Alan Ayckbourn’s wry comedies, from a theatre management point of view, is that they’re practically production-proof. Another is that they are immeasurably enhanced by intelligent staging and uninhibited performances. This is where a thrust-stage such as that of the New Wolsey comes into its own.
Foxton’s set of the three contrasted bedrooms in three different houses within a small geographical locality wraps the audience around the frenetic action (Peter Rowe is the director). We are wall-hangings, affected by what’s going on before and below us, but unable to take any of the characters and shake – even knock – some sense into them.
Chief candidate for such treatment is Trevor. His complete inability to care for anyone but himself and serene conviction that it is always he who leaves a girl – and that anyone with whom she sets up a relationship in future must automatically be a case of settling for second-best – comes over in all its grisly perfection through Tom Turner. He spreads himself across two of the three bedrooms, excluding only that of his doting mother, like some malignant miasma.
The three younger women who suffer most from Trevor’s selfishness (particularly as he’s incapable of ever viewing it in that light – or indeed, seeing it at all) are very well differentiated by Sophie Roberts as Susannah, the wife he’s driving to mental collapse; Chloe Howman (in an assured stage début) as Jan, the one who (sort of) got away, and Leanne Jones as cuddly Kate, whose housewarming party he wrecks so thoroughly.
Mind you, Kate’s husband Malcolm is a bit of a wrecker in his own right. Richard Elis makes it clear that this is the last man you should trust with self-assembly furniture, and that he’s still a retarded schoolboy as far as the making of apple-pie beds is concerned. Then there’s businessman Nick, Jan’s husband. He’s hurt his back, is confined to bed – and Barnaby Power makes it clear that men make even more fuss in too many circumstances than women are reputed to do.
Caught up in the Trevor-Susannah debacle are Trevor’s parents, who are celebrating their wedding anniversary with a meal out. Susan Bovell neatly balances the farcical and the human elements in Delia while Christopher Ettridge gives a three-dimensional portrait of the man who has settled into marriage as into a comfortable pair of slippers. It is Delia, of course, who provides him with comfort, by the simple expedient of doing her own thing – very quietly, very subtly.