I am sure that even Sir Alan Ayckbourn would admit that his musical work does not rank amongst his most significant successes. Even when paired with Andrew Lloyd Webber his first opus Jeeves, back in 1976, was nothing short of a disaster, and did not fare a lot better when it was reworked twenty years later.
Like many of his revues and musical entertainments, Me, Myself and I, initially staged as three connected, but separate lunchtime shows, has been rewritten at least three times since it's Scarborough premiere in 1981.
Its latest incarnation at the ideally suited Orange Tree, shows it to be a slight, but occasionally witty and poignant work, perfect as an alternative entertainment for the festive season, but nothing to set the theatrical world alight.
This four-hander combines Ayckbourn's preoccupation with a dissection of middle-class English mores which often (as here) reveals the underlying loneliness and despair of his characters, with a variation of another oft-used theme, namely, multiple outcomes, and the ingenious use of stage time.
The central character, a Twickenham housewife, Mary Yately, fantasises (and convinces the audience) that she has been named, and is to be interviewed, as Mother of the Year by her local newspaper. In the second act, her fantasy is revealed for what it is and she has to get to grips with her unsatisfactory family life.
Played in some style, Jacqui Charlesworth, is the eponymous 'Me', lacking in self-confidence, shy and nervous. 'Myself' (the wonderful Jessica Martin) is her more self confident alter ego, while the vampish I - Stephanie Putson - completes the trio. Whether Mary is having a multi personality breakdown, or that this is just a typical Ayckbourn theatrical conceit is never made entirely clear.
It is probably best not to do too much navel gazing about this particular question, and better to enjoy the piece for what it is. The characters undertake quite enough introspection for themselves and the audience. Its 85 minute playing time (plus interval) consists of no less than 15 musical numbers, all of which are concerned with yearning, ambivalence, loneliness and unhappiness. This is not to say that the evening is a complete dirge. While the libretto falls far short of the author's customary brilliance, there are many amusing moments and occasionally some very diverting musical numbers.
Paul Todd's music often suffers from too much of the same, but there are one or two stirring numbers. In particular, “Wife Swap Dance” is a laugh aloud song, amusingly staged by Kenn Oldfield, “Teaching the Children”, is a real heart break song revealing a house bound mother's isolation, and “Another Bite” an upbeat number not dissimilar in theme to Sondheim's “Being Alive”. Ayckbourn's lyrics can hardly be termed poetic and are clearly from the Tim Rice school of songwriting - blunt, bland, conversational songwords set to music. They are often droll and sharp-witted, always serviceable, but never catch the imagination.
That said, the show is beautifully sung by all concerned (including Nigel Richards as the reporter/husband) and cleverly directed in this space Kim Grant. It is an entertaining, if inconsequential, evening and a triumph of style over substance.
- Stephen Gilchrist