brother and sister Hilda and Martin move onto the Bluebell Hill
Development bubbling with excitement: the house is perfect, the
view is charming and the neighbours are sure to be a decent bunch.
Eager to make a good impression, they host a house-warming.
Out of over 100 invitations, only a handful of people turn up, but
this does nothing to dampen the siblings' expectations of their new
life in Bluebell Hill. What does rattle them, however, is their new
neighbours' insistence on the need for increased security. Hilda and
Martin try to laugh these warnings off, but when Martin is attacked
in broad daylight by a trespassing youth, their neighbours' fears
appear to be confirmed. Something will have to be done.
Hill's collection of misfits are little more than stereotypes – the
meek bachelor, the busy-body neighbour, the security-obsessed former
soldier – but they're amusingly drawn. As the group puts its plans
for a neighbourhood watch scheme into action, playwright and director Alan Ayckbourn's eye for
detail and flair for dialogue make for an enjoyable first half. It's
like watching a re-run of an old-fashioned television sitcom: you get
the sense of having seen it before but the chuckles come frequently
enough to stop you from changing the channel.
not long before the interval, however, when the play begins to lose
its way. Flushed with the success of their initial security measures,
the members of the neighbourhood watch committee adopt an
increasingly draconian approach. Ayckbourn's parody of the paranoia of
Middle England in the face of the disintegration of public morality
isn't sophisticated or new, but it's entertaining nonetheless.
play goes on, however, rather than embracing the spirit of farce
engendered by the twists of the ever more far-fetched plot, Ayckborn
bottles it. Various issues are thrown into the mix. References to
domestic violence, child abuse and latent homosexuality – all
presented with a veneer of serious drama – clash with the
increasingly surreal nature of the piece, leaving us with a sense
that this play doesn't know quite what it wants to be.
cast do the best with what they've been given – Eileen Battye as
gossip-monger Dorothy deserves special mention – but ultimately too
little attention has been paid to how these characters interact with
one another, with the result that barely any of the play's
relationships ring true. Frances Grey, who plays Amy, the
one-dimensional neighbourhood adulteress, has been given a
particularly raw deal by Ayckbourn, in terms of both character and
direction. Her behaviour is unbelievable, her motivations unexamined.
slight, safe piece – the playwright's 75th – may
please Ayckbourn afficionados, but it's hard to imagine anyone else
getting much out of it. Why Nicolas Kent has chosen to round off 27
years as artistic director of one of the country's most influential political theatres with it is anyone's