Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough
Alan Ayckbourn describes Time of My Life as "one of my J.B. Priestley-esque plays". No doubt the Northern setting has something to do with that, but the main similarity is the toying with time to dramatic effect, acting past, present and future simultaneously.
Originally staged in 1992, it has had a limited life in terms of the West End and tours and, frankly, it's easy to see why, but it's worth reviving in the Round which suits its three-tables-in-a-restaurant setting, though even here it comes out as rather sedentary.
Wise, frequently funny and always ingenious, Time of My Life doesn't really engage the audience's emotions. There is always something intensely moving about watching a happy untroubled scene knowing the disillusionment or tragedy that's about to follow – Act 3 of Time and the Conways can be heart-breaking – but here the people are neither likeable nor happy enough to produce that emotion.
In the best Ayckbourn style, Time of My Life is complex in creation, straightforward to watch. Laura celebrates her birthday in the restaurant she and her prosperous contractor husband Gerry regularly frequent. With them are sons Glyn and Adam, Glyn with his wife, Stephanie, newly reconciled after he has strayed, Adam with his latest girl-friend, Maureen, deemed common and a gold-digger by Laura who doesn't approve of anybody much except her over-protected son Adam.
After a long opening scene ending with the acutely nervous Maureen overcome by the effects of alcohol and fleeing to the Ladies to be sick, the time-scales part company: Laura and Gerry stay in the restaurant drinking too much, while at the other tables Adam and Maureen play out their engagement in reverse and Glyn and Stephanie sketch in two years of consequences of the "time of my life" birthday dinner.
Laura and Gerry are in the safe hands of Sarah Parks and John Branwell, she assidulously respectable, he the soul of amiability, both thoroughly adept at suggesting that this is not all. There are nicely judged performances from Emily Pithon (Stephanie), Richard Stacey (Glyn), and James Powell (Adam), while Rachel Caffrey winningly brings out the essential niceness of Maureen despite the grotesque hairdos, bizarre dress sense, invented family histories, vomiting and foul language.
The restaurant, as set by Jan Bee Brown, looks the part, but the assorted waiters (and the proprietor) are an irritation, with their silly wigs and unidentifiable accents. Ben Porter does his best, but I would put this down to a miscalculation by Alan Ayckbourn if I believed there were such things.
Time of my Life continues at Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough until 4 October. For further information visit www.sjt.uk.com
- Ron Simpson