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London Wall

A Pageant (Colchester, Mercury Theatre)

By • Southeast
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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.


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