Once upon a time - probably before some of you even acquired the playgoing habit - a three-act play had two intervals. It's more than a shrewd way of boosting bar takings. It actually makes good theatrical sense.
Tim Firth's The Safari Party has two intervals, which is partly because its three acts require a fair amount of scenery shifting. It was originally written for the Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough in 2002 and this new production is directed by David Taylor with cleverly detailed sets by Julie Godfrey.
A safari dinner is where each course is provided and eaten in a different home. For this one we are in semi-rural Cheshire, where new money trading up from executive housing estates - and those who make a living from such in-comers, come face to face with the realities of country life; a life where diversification has less to do with an investment portfolio than survival in a changing world.
The tone of the play is a slippery one to grasp. On the farcical level it has elements of Cold Comfort Farm overlaid with Footballers' Wives and a dash of The Good Life. Yet are physical abuse of children, suicide, racism and lying really the stuff of comedy? It's fair to say that a packed house at the Mercury obviously felt no such misgivings, laughing and applauding vigorously.
For Act One we are in an old farmhouse kitchen where Adam (Jack Ryder) and his brother Daniel (David Brown) have rashly offered to provide the hors d'oeuvres. I say rashly, for they have sold the table, have only a miscellany of chairs, plates and glasses, and the titbits are still in the freezer.
Act Two takes us into the over-the-top conservatory of Lol (Christopher Timothy) and his wife Esther (Sara Crowe). They do have a table (the one which was in the farmhouse until a certain car-boot sale) on which to serve Hawaiian chicken, but one of the guests is missing.
That person is Inga (Illona Linthwaite), an antiques dealer of German origin. She is meant to provide the dessert, though her guests are not in a sweet mood, not even Lol and Esther's daughter Bridget (Helen Noble). Here, the history of the table comes to its fragmented end. I'm not so sure about the characters it has grouped around itself. Too many chips off a crumbled block, perhaps.
- Anne Morley-Priestman (reviewed at Colchester Mercury Theatre)