Four into three definitely doesn’t go. It may be an awkward equation in real life but Alan Ayckbourn is a master of such things in dramatic terms. The four couples, three bedrooms and the 1970s setting for Bedroom Farce keep our attention focussed on real people in farcically credible situations throughout Peter Hall’s production.
Our six constants are middle-aged Delia and Ernest, middle-class Jan and Nick, and still-settling-in Kate and Malcolm. Trevor is Delia and Ernest’s somewhat unsatisfactory son who is married to troubled Susannah but still carries a storm-blown candle for Jan. Designer Simon Higlett fills the stage with the three highly contrasted bedrooms – Delia’s is pink and rather old-fashioned, Kate’s is a work-in-progress (thanks to Malcolm’s cavalier attitude to DIY – not to mention flat-packed furniture), Jan’s has obviously been influenced by one of the more glossy homes magazines.
The performances match up to all this. Maxwell Caulfield as Nick spends most of the evening either on his back or on his stomach (Nick’s confined to bed with a spinal injury) but gets every ounce of comedy out of the character’s self-absorption. Natasha Alderslade is Susannah, so lacking in any sort of confidence and therefore uncertain of how to cope with her husband, and ends the play on a note that reminds us that Ayckbourn went on to write Woman in Mind and other explorations of what drives people – especially women – over the precipice edge.
Juliet Mills has great fun with Delia’s insouciant fluffiness as does Bruce Montagu with Ernest’s fixation on home comforts. Trevor is a gift of a part to any young actor prepared to play a somewhat unpleasant – albeit comical – personality and Oliver Boot seizes the present with aplomb. Julia Mallam makes Kate’s frustration with Malcolm (Ayden Callaghan) understandable and Callaghan thoroughly enjoys the role of inept house-owner and party host. I wanted to warm to Clare Wilkie’s Jan but found her performance just a little too muted.