Bedroom Farce (Oldham Coliseum)

Alan Hulme sees a fine production of Alan Ayckbourn’s classic

Bedroom Farce
Bedroom Farce

First seen in 1975, at Alan Ayckbourn‘s Scarborough base, and then, somewhat controversially, taken up by the National Theatre, Bedroom Farce became one of the author’s biggest successes.

And it’s still, probably, in the top handful that spring to mind if anyone asks you to list Ayckbourn’s work, and it’s still regularly revived. It isn’t a farce, of course, but a cleverly conceived comedy of middle-class manners. As the press release for this joint production with Harrogate Theatre neatly encapsulates it, “three bedrooms, four couples and one chaotic night.”

The staging, as so often with Ayckbourn, is a major player in the action; in this case the three bedrooms are side by side. Three bedrooms but four couples, which is where the problems arise, as the roving and highly neurotic Susannah and Trevor (Laura Doddington and Antony Eden) hawk their difficulties around the other three partnerships, creating chaos in their wake, from which emerges the author’s typically wry, rueful and rather bleak but always funny view of middle-class marriage.

The older couple, Ernest and Delia (Christopher Wilkinson and Lynette Edwards), share a tin of pilchards in bed, a more companionable experience than the unsuccessful wedding anniversary repast from which they have just returned. And companionship, and comfortable habits, is now what their relationship is all about.

Nick and Jan (Robin Simpson and Maeve Larkin) business-driven and irritable, have both settled for second best and know it but are resigned to their lot.

Malcolm and Kate (Henry Devas and Catherine Kinsella), are clearly far better adjusted and happy, but they have their secrets and their silly little games are just a little too silly to last.

Director Robin Herford, a fan and former colleague of Ayckbourn, clearly knows exactly what he is doing and has assembled a cast who are fully capable of carrying out his wishes, making this one of the most satisfactory productions of the piece I have seen, and I’ve seen a few.

The timing of some lines needs adjusting a little here and there and I’m sure it will be and while the play itself isn’t perhaps as riotously funny as it once seemed it’s still a very amusing evening.

Bedroom Farce is at the Oldham Coliseum until 22 February.

– Alan Hulme