The play, which received its London premiere in 1976, was written during a purple patch in Ayckbourn’s illustrious career and has the writer’s usual wry take on middle class marital strife.
We initially meet Lucy (Gillian McCafferty), a put upon mother of three with an absent husband and a strange aversion to bells. When her bickering married neighbours visit to enquire about her health we realise she’s become accustomed to treating everyone she meets like children. Almost a hostage in her own home, she seeks to infantilise the world around her, finding the reality of her situation too hard to face.
This places her in a similar position to husband Henry (Howard Teale), a lonely travelling salesman in a hotel bar with a developing alcohol problem. He corners a reluctant perfume seller (Aimi Percival) and while plying her with drinks, attempts to get her up to his room. As the drinks flow the smooth talker becomes the morose monologist and is reduced to frantically babbling “room 249” in the vain hope of avoiding another night alone.
The next scene in the restaurant of the same hotel is an expert demonstration of how people can be sat in the same room, in this example arguing couples, but be utterly insensitive to what is being asked of them. This is followed by a disastrous village fete assailed by inclement weather and an unfortunately revealing PA system. The play is rounded off in what could be seen as a parable for our solipsistic age: five lonely figures in a park who can’t listen to each other but fully expect to be listened to and subsequently find themselves no closer to anyone.
Deftly directed by Ben De Wynter, the cast brilliantly capture their various roles’ bubbling angst and/or wide-eyed oddness as they try and grope towards some shared understanding and fail spectacularly. Overall this unfolds as an enjoyable evening that puts our fear of solitude under the microscope with humorous effect.
- Femi Fola