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Taking Steps (Oldham)

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
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Oldham Coliseum is out and about until the autumn, while the home base is renovated, popping up this time at one of the best, but greatly underused, flexible performance spaces in Greater Manchester.

As it happens, this particular Alan Ayckbourn comedy, directed by the master himself, toured to this very stage, back in 1979 and the director this time around, one Robin Herford, a regular director for the Coliseum, was one of the original cast.

The staging gimmick – it’s from that period of Ayckbourn’s work when he was particularly fond of staging tricks – is that while the action is set over three floors of a large, dilapidated, rambling Victorian house, all the rooms and staircases are actually flat on the deck but the cast have to ‘climb’ or ‘descend’ the stairs to get up or down to the various rooms.

This imaginative set-up causes all sorts of hilarity, the particular example, which became quite famous back then, is where someone on the ‘ground’ floor looks up to the floor ‘above’ where there’s a rumpus going on and after one big thump, a stream of plaster dust drops from the flies. Clever.

Apart from all this trickery, there’s also a story, about Elizabeth (Jackie Morrison), a former, not very famous TV dancer and a wife of three months, leaving her husband Roland (John McAndrew) – a rich, inebriated, bucket manufacturer.

She is making a bid for freedom while he is negotiating the purchase of the dilapidated house they are renting, aided and abetted on the legal side by Tristram, a very dim-witted but boyishly appealing solicitor (Antony Eden), who manages to fall into bed with both the available women.

Elizabeth’s brother, Mark (Ben Porter), bores for England with his dreams of keeping a fishing tackle shop, while his fiancée, Kitty (Maeve Larkin), has left him standing at the altar but for some inexplicable reason is back for more of the same. The cast is completed by the dodgy builder (Martin Miller) who is desperately trying to sell the crumbling mansion to Roland.

Unlike most of Ayckbourn’s output, there isn’t much serious intent behind the laughter, it’s a farce, more or less pure but certainly not simple.

Herford clearly knows what he is doing, he should, he was with Ayckbourn’s company in Scarborough for some time, and his cast are an experienced ensemble. Not quite every line hit the target on the first night but with very minor adjustments to timing they will and this is already the biggest laugh of the season so far.

- Alan Hulme

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