At first glance, the set and costumes of Bedroom Farce may well have you thinking that you've stumbled onto a studio recording of That 70s show, complete with canned laughter and jaunty intro music.
However, this comedy is no pot-shot at the decade that fashion forgot. Written by Alan Ayckbourn in 1975, it takes that year as its contemporary setting, but aside from the inevitable titters prompted today by unflattering perms, polyester prints and flares as broad as teepees, the humour relies little on collective hindsight. Neither is it strictly farcical, as the title suggests, for there is no mistaking of identities, hiding in wardrobes or splitting of trousers and even the slamming of doors is kept to a bare minimum.
Instead what we have are three bedrooms and four couples. In Lez Brotherston's pyramid set, the front two boudoirs belong to: Malcolm and Kate, young lovebirds throwing a housewarming party; and Nick, a bad-back, bedbound workaholic, and his wife Jan, who's off to said party. The top bedroom is occupied by old married couple Ernest and Delia, the weary and distracted parents of egotistical Trevor who's married to basketcase Susannah. They are the fourth couple who bounce between the various homes of their friends and loved ones wreaking havoc.
All four pairs grapple with sexual and emotional fulfilment, and for various reasons, are all left wanting. The only relationship approaching real happiness is that of goofy pranksters Malcolm and Kate, who are left doubting it after Trevor "the destroyer" blunders through their party and their life.
Director Loveday Ingram has assembled an impressive ensemble for this revival, led by consummate professionals Richard Briers and June Whitfield who revel in the sweet and not-so-sweet dottiness of Ernest and Delia. Amongst the younger women, Suzy Aitchison (Whitfield's real-life daughter) as Kate and Samantha Spiro as Jan are amusingly mousy and gutsy, respectively.
But Jasper Britton, playing firmly against type, nearly steals the show from all of them. His sideburned, open-shirted Malcolm, life of the party and DIY incompetent, is touching, boisterous and downright hilarious. Britton - who was seen last year in Japes (for which he was nominated for a Whatsonstage.com Award) and the title role of the Globe's Macbeth - must surely be one of the most versatile actors of his generation. Let's hope he adds more comedy to his repertoire in future.
By comparison, the performances delivered by Jason Watkins as Trevor and Rose Keegan as Susannah are weak links in a production that raises an evening of wry smiles and more than a few belly laughs.