Two plays performed simultaneously in different spaces by the same cast. It's got disaster written all over it. But if anyone can pull off such a hair-brained idea, it's Alan Ayckbourn, the master of theatrical technical experimentation.
House is one half of the pair that also comprises Garden. They both take place on the same August Saturday at the same time. They are linked but can be seen individually and in either order, although for maximum effect one should see both.
On the day of the village fête, the philandering Teddy (Robert Blythe) and wife Trish (Eileen Battye) are hosting a lunch at which French actress Lucille Cadeau (Sabine Azema) and writer Gavin 'with a Y' Ryng-Mayne (Terence Booth) will attend. Gavin, who is well acquainted with the Prime Minister, is coming over to offer former school pal Teddy the chance to stand as local MP. While Teddy wishes to impress, this is made difficult by the fact that his wife refuses to acknowledge his presence in the house owing, in part, to his numerous affairs, the most recent with neighbour Joanna (Janie Dee). At the same time, daughter Sally (Charlie Hayes) is going through the turmoil of teenage angst.
Roger Glossop's Cowardesque drawing room set plays host to what is, with the numerous comings and goings of the large cast (who all excel), a mild farce. Trish is the pivotal character, about to finally walk out of a marriage that died long ago (the metaphor is that life is like the Maypole in the garden, you hang on to the ribbon for grim death, and when you let go it may be too late). Always the feminist, Ayckbourn once again shows the chore of womanhood, and also muses on love and the human condition - love is simple, he says, it's just humans that make it complicated.
Light comedy that is a little too light on comedy, and reliant on characters with speech defects (groan!), there are a few odd moments of glory. Ayckbourn displays his passion for visual gags with some vol- au-vent squashing and a slapstick plate-hurling scene. And Teddy, ignored by his wife, really does become the invisible man upon the arrival of Ms Cadeau. As everyone save for him communicates in French, he becomes an outmoded model of British masculinity.
As a single entity House is an unsatisfactory play. Knowing that the gaps in the play are being filled by the action next door does nothing to stop you shuffling in your seat. The characters do not develop, they're too busy running off to hit their spot in the garden. Which may make one marvel at the complexities but that is not enough. And, as we cannot physically see both plays at once, all we are left with is a single play with action off. And that single play is very disappointing.