The third of
Ayckbourn's Intimate Exchanges to be staged as
part of the Made in Colchester season focuses on Sylvie and her
relationships with handyman Lionel and headmaster Toby, whose wife
Celia employs her as a home-help. As with the other plays, A
Pageant begins on the terrace of the headmaster's house;
Celia comes out for a break from a major house-clean and has an
exchange with Lionel over what might be done to the garden.
So far, so familiar. By
this point in the sequence we feel that we know all four characters
very well. But Ayckbourn has some surprises for us. That pageant of
the title concerns the Iceni queen Boudica (or Bonduca, or Boadicea
if you prefer), one of Colchester's heroines – or anti-heroines.
Toby, roped in unwillingly as director, has apparently double-cast the role. To say that this leads
to a cat-fight is to understate the rumpus which ensues.
Sylvie in Ruth Gibson
portrayal has hidden depths, not to say aspirations. Gibson contrasts
her with a Celia who is rather less gentle and nice than in previous
incarnations. Lionel retains his bombastic approach to work and to
people while Gwynfor Evans gives has-been Toby a far more
sympathetic edge than was allowed to appear hitherto. Robin
Herford's direction paces the unfolding dramas cleverly.
The scenes where
characters offstage indulge in conversation with each other come
thick, fast and increasingly hilariously – especially once we
arrive at the field where the pageant is to be played out and
Lionel's stage acquires a life all of its own. Designer Michael
Holt has fun with this and with the gentle soundscape of birdsong
and country noises devised by Adam P McCready, the latter
punctuated by hammering and other noises-off.