The wonderful aspect of having a resident company is that, by this stage in the season, they all feel like friends. At the Stephen Joseph this summer we've laughed with them, cried with them and marvelled that they haven't collapsed under the workload piled on top of them. The experience of theatre-going is increased with the thrill of trying to imagine what characters they'll be creating for the next show. Familiarity, then, rather than breeding contempt, just increases the pleasure.
Once again the familiar faces pull it off, this time in a revival of Alan Ayckbourn's 1990 play Body Language, directed by the man himself. Alexandra Mathie has grown increasingly deadpan with each play; here she is fantastic. Barry McCarthy, asked to play dithering middle class men a lot this season, is groovy, man, as a wasted rock star. And Terence Booth, who delivers lines for all their comic worth, shows his impeccable timing once more.
The play deals with image obsession and what happens when two women - one fat, one thin - find themselves in each others bodies after decapitation by a helicopter (brilliant effect involving deafening rotor engine roars and wind machines) and some hasty surgery by crazy surgeon Hravic Zyergefoovc (Peter Laird, with a gloriously eccentric performance). Naturally, they are not happy with their lot; fat one does not like the exercise involved in keeping her new thin body in shape, thin one is not impressed with the smell and sweat emitted from her new model. And that, unlike more complex Ayckbourn works, is about that really (although one should remember that even poor Ayckbourn is still streets ahead of your average playwright). It does have its comedy moments, but they are mostly lightweight and the joke has worn thin mid-way through the second act.
Yet the cast, our familiar friends, save the day. Alison Senior (silicon implanted model Angie) and Jennifer Luckraft (fat journalist Jo) are both exceptional, taking it in turns to suffer the discomfort of fat suits but never failing to give bubbly, energetic and entertaining performances.
Speaking of things familiar brings us to Roger Glossop's set, another venture into the outside world which involves a lot of grass. Had it not echoed the set of two previous shows then the impression left would have been greater. Glossop also provides a raised stone patio performance space which, playing host to most of the action and dialogue, threatens to and occasionally does defeat the object of playing in the round. Still Glossop's sets and John Pattison's music are always excellent and another reason why a night at the SJT is so enjoyable.
At Stephen Jopseph Theatre until 25 September then on tour.