What an amazing setting for a play! Who could ever imagine a full size cabin cruiser on a huge expanse of water in the middle of Salisbury Playhouse Theatre?
A technical tour de force would in this instance be an understatement. It is jaw-droppingly effective and highest praise must be heaped on an incredible technical team for staging such an unthinkable set. Such is the realism of the set, sound effects, lighting and movement of the boat one is transported totally to the river rather than as an audience in a theatre.
The sheer agility of the cast, teetering precariously on the rolling boat at times, and quick changing in the depths of the tiny cabins, is to be applauded. For six people to sustain convincing acting on such a small vessel is both comical and admirable.
Alan Ayckbourn is a master of the art of comic storytelling with underpinning messages that are as meaningful today as they perhaps were in 1981, when the play was written. It is about attitudes, power struggles and how individuals function, or not, in an ever challenging world. Parallels are drawn between the events on the boat, the unrest in the fancy goods factory and the political landscape beyond. The two couples, sharing a boating holiday, are inspiringly written and performed.
Blustering, bombastic, bully Keith David Hounslow grabs the skipper role for himself and amply demonstrates his inept attempt to run the boat, his company and his personal life. His avaricious but long suffering wife June Cate Hamer with acid tongued complaints about anything and everything, is superb in deliverance of Ayckbourn’s barbs.
In complete contrast Alistair Daniel Crowder sympathetically plays a gentle coward, totally out of his depth with most aspects of his struggling existence. Sally Scott as Emma, Alistair’s loyal, loving but ultimately frustrated wife is played with pathos and eventually great strength.
Keith’s PA, Mrs Hatfield Suzy Aitchison gives a striking cameo performance from the river bank as she daily visits to update her bosses on the mutinous rumblings from the factory.
Part way through the cruise the bickering couples are joined by Vince Richard Tinder a playboy pirate oozing charm, strength and eventually malevolence, and his upper class, self obsessed companion Fleur Georgina White. An unfamiliar darker, sinister side of Ayckbourn’s writing emerges as the pair gradually take over the vessel and the tables are turned for all main characters.
Ultimately good triumphs over evil as Alistair finds his backbone, encouraged by Emma, and they pass their Armageddon to realise their dreams of personal freedom in a naked leap of hope.