For an evening of uncomplicated enjoyment Farcicals is surprisingly difficult to assess. Firstly Alan Ayckbourn's insistence that there is no serious content at all invites sneering references to superficiality, but at the same time affirms that the plays can only be judged by how successfully they entertain the audience. But which audience? Ayckbourn, practical man of the theatre, has created a dual-purpose work: two short (40-50 minutes each) farces with the same characters that serve singly as lunch-time accompaniment to soup and a sandwich in the Restaurant or, staged together, form a diverting evening in the McCarthy. The double-bill presentation has some slight drawbacks: a parallel spell of exposition in both plays, a similarity in the motor for the plot, an unevenness of inspiration between the two plays. So, while I happily recommend the evening performances of Farcicals, I would urge anyone in the area to catch one of the four remaining lunch-time performances of The Kidderminster Affair, as inspired a piece of one-act lunacy as you'll come across.
Farcicals is made up of Chloe with Love and The Kidderminster Affair, both set in the suburban garden of one or another of a pair of married couples whom Sir Alan, in the programme, simply distinguishes by levels of stupidity. Their names, with their diminutive endings (Penny, Teddy, Lottie and Reggie), suggest children and, though the plays deal with grown-up things like sex, alcohol and working the barbecue, they are a pretty childish lot! The impetus for the plot in both plays is Teddy's attraction to women and his wife Lottie's initially timorous attempt to do something about it. In the case of Chloe with Love this leads to an ingenious, rather formulaic farce studded with conversational gems; The Kidderminster Affair takes off into something crazier and more wonderful.
Ayckbourn (of course) elicits beautifully judged and very funny performances from a perfectly balanced team of four. He builds in stereotype-tickling duologues for husbands and wives and Terence Booth and Kim Wall talk with inane self-confidence about such things as women, wine and foreigners (even occasionally cricket) as though auditioning for the archetypal Brits Charters and Caldicott of The Lady Vanishes fame. Sarah Stanley makes the most of the opportunities of Lottie, mouse-like, nervously twitching and clutching at her garments until liberated by booze, dressing up or Penny's schemes, while Elizabeth Boag, restricted to some extent by being the only near-sensible one of the quartet, bullies, protects and organises with relish – and gets her reward in the final mayhem.
Jan Bee Brown's set is impressive for a production that has to switch between floors of the Stephen Joseph Theatre and Alan Ayckbourn once again puzzles seekers after deep meaning – this time, by having none!
Both plays are running at the Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough. The Kidderminster Affair until 27 September, Chloe with Love until 4 October. For further information visit www.sjt.uk.com