Much of the publicity for this joint production with Oldham Coliseum bills it as Alan Ayckbourn's Bedroom Farce, as though the playwright is part of the title. This suggests that the production is true to Ayckbourn's original values (which it was bound to be with Robin Herford in charge), but also perhaps that it's content to follow the lead of the Scarborough Master. Whatever the reason, Bedroom Farce proves an intelligent and ingenious entertainment, but Ayckbourn's wicked comedy seems less wicked and less comic than memory suggests.
One of Ayckbourn's classic plots follows four couples on one night, different strands interconnecting seamlessly with no apparent effort. Three bedrooms are onstage throughout, the action cross-cutting from one to the other. Michael Holt's designs place them in a triangle, easier for the audience to follow than a side-by-side arrangement.
The agents of disaster are Trevor and Susannah (Antony Eden and Laura Doddington), he monumentally selfish, unable to comprehend that other people may have interests outside of him, she always on the brink of a hysterical crisis of confidence.
The chaos they engender destroys the peace of the other three couples as they make their apologetic way, singly or together, through all three bedrooms. Love's young dream Malcolm and Kate (Henry Devas and Catherine Kinsella) find their house-warming party destroyed by the separate appearances of Trevor and Susannah and their happy world of unquestioning love and lots of jolly japes placed under threat.
The situation of Nick and Jan (Robin Simpson and Maeve Larkin) is a bit more complex: she is an old flame of Trevor's and goes to the same party while he is laid up with a bad back, possibly – given his reaction – the worst in human history. With Trevor's inability to recognise anyone else's problem, Jan's increasing irritation at Nick's helplessness and Nick's mistrust of his wife's former lover, the arrival of Trevor at their house is a recipe for disaster.
All six give unselfish, convincing, clearly defined performances, Larkin and Kinsella particularly effective. However, to me the most interesting characters are the older couple, Ernest and Delia, Trevor's parents (Chris Wilkinson and Lynette Edwards, both gently comic and oddly sympathetic).
Ayckbourn's longish opening scene pretends to be for a quite different play as they dress up for an anniversary dinner at their favourite restaurant (regulars once a year!). Later they return disgusted by the poor food, the high prices and the scruffy customers and retreat calmly to bed to eat pilchards, cavilling happily about details, before being invaded by the neuroses of the younger generation.
Bedroom Farce continues at Harrogate Theatre until 8 March 2014.