As with each of the eight plays in Alan Ayckbourn’s Intimate Exchanges series, A Cricket Match starts with a woman in a garden trying to decide whether or not she should have a cigarette. However, as this is not explained to the audience in advance, and this play is the only one of the eight that is being performed, the opening moments seem somewhat bizarre to most.
The match of the title is a school masters against pupils one but, long before the first ball is bowled, we get to meet a whole host of characters played by just two actors. Jenny Funnell plays headmaster’s wife Celia, Celia’s mother, the housekeeper Sylvie Bell and the headmaster’s best friend’s wife Rowena and Stephen Beckett plays Toby the headmaster, Toby’s best friend Miles, Lionel Hepplewick the groundsman and star batsman Reg Schooner.
Act one is set entirely in the garden of Toby and Celia’s house, although Toby is absent and it is his best friend Miles who pops round for a chat. The chat, punctuated by the arrival of the housekeeper and, later, the mother, lasts an hour and half and, although occasionally amusing, is for the most part bum-numbingly tedious.
The costume changes, which are necessary prior to the arrival of each new character, are overly long and, as a result, leave just one actor on stage to try and keep the action moving along. Unfortunately, the alternative happens and the action basically stops until the second actor returns to restart the ball rolling.
Funnell does well at differentiating her characters with each one offering the audience a distinct accent, a different appearance and a quirky personality. Beckett, however, needs to learn that more is required than a hat and a pair of glasses to separate one character from another, and that using the same booming voice for all four is a huge mistake.
The second act is, mercifully, slightly shorter than the first but, as nothing really happens except for a few lame attempts at portraying an off-stage cricket match, it seems just as long as the first with Beckett continually switching hats and glasses to portray the various males in the cricket team.
Maybe the subject matter of two relationships on the brink of irrevocable collapse is not really my idea of comic fodder, or maybe it is the fact that neither relationship does actually crumble, despite how hopeless they appear, but something just doesn’t work with this production.
It is overly long at almost three hours, devoid of any serious action, contains three or four totally superfluous characters and, as a stand alone piece, lacked direction – but it is a masterclass in the art of quick-change.