A Small Family Business at the Chichester Festival Theatre
Alan Ayckbourn's award-winning play, A Small Family Business, was first performed in 1987, and this new production, as part of the Chichester Festival's summer season, bears all the hallmarks of the era in which the play was born.
If, therefore, you don't happen to be an eighties fan or throwback, prepare to be irritated by the Boy George interludes and references to the likes of “top” shoulder-padded fashion, high-tech watches and the “war on drugs”. These are after all, at worst, minor irritations in the face of a classic Ayckbourn comedy-cum-morality tale. And, in truth, the “me” decade of yuppie greed couldn't be more appropriate for the story.
Jack (Nigel Planer) is an honest, hard-working, law-abiding bloke, and one who thoroughly deserves the good fortune that appears to befall him when the play opens with a family gathering to celebrate Jack's inheriting of the family furniture business. But this is Ayckbourn-land, mind. Though the family may seem a typical suburban family and the house a typical suburban house, they are anything but.
The arrival of a private investigator, who accuses Jack's teenaged daughter of shoplifting, is the first indication that things are not quite so normal as they seem. Revelations unfold thick and fast, and it soon becomes apparent just why Jack's Jaguar-driving brother happily turns a blind eye to his wife's sexual antics with the black marketeering Rivetti brothers and why Jack's own wife is so peeved at their lack of creature comforts.
The “small family business” of the title is corrupt through and through, and it's up to Jack to turn it around. But will he succeed, against all the odds, in transforming it into a decent family concern once again? Can he resist the temptations for an easier if shadier life? And can he trust his own family while he attempts to do so?
Director Rachel Kavanaugh cranks up the comic pace as the characters do moral battle across Francis O Connor s serviceable four-in-one house set.
Amongst the strong ensemble cast, Planer comes up trumps. Although he's probably best known for his role in TV's The Young Ones, Planer's recent run in the West End's demonstrated his considerable adaptability as an actor – and this role confirms it. He is engaging throughout, with a strong, clear voice that achieves maximum projection.
A Small Family Business provides a highly entertaining while also thought-provoking evening. And it shines as one of the Festival's summer highlights.