Variations on the original play by R B Sheridan (itself an adaptation of The Relapse by Vanburgh, itself an adaptation/sequel to a play by Colley Cibber) written and updated by Alan Ayckbourn
Directed by Alan Ayckbourn
Venue: Yvonne Arnaud Theatre
Date: Monday 28th January 2008
And what a wonderful trip to Scarborough this was! The blending of the various time settings was pure Ayckbourn, and the “original” 1800 stuff sparkled like a jewel against the more modern scenes. All the long-windedness trimmed down to a few vital (in both senses of the word) scenes, and some comic set pieces by a modern master as well – what joy.
The two later time periods – 1942 and this year – are set in the Royal Hotel, Scarborough, and the action take places in the foyer. There are a couple of hotel servants, Gander and Pestle, who shift between times zones like experienced Time Lords, although they’re not required much in the 1800 scenes. The 1800 scenes are in a mixture of rooms, but as the present day hotel is hosting a fancy dress party, with 19th century period costume, this makes for some entertaining possibilities, and is obviously easier on the cast, as they don’t have to keep rushing backstage to get changed.
The 1800 scenes were a very trimmed down version of a play that has already been through various versions. They mainly occurred in the second half, although the start of the play showed us Hoyden sitting on the steps, holding a doll. Lord Foppington is due to marry Hoyden, the daughter of a Yorkshire gentleman, but his impecunious younger brother gets there first, pretends to be Lord Foppington, and gets the girl. To be fair, he did ask his brother for money first, and if he’d come through for him, then the risky marriage would have been off, but the Lord isn’t one for giving money away needlessly to his family, when he could give it away needlessly to his tailor, wig-maker, etc. (Actually, they didn’t bother with wigs in this production – I suspect it would have been too much to do in the quick changes.)
This story is echoed in the modern scenes, where a valuable manuscript is being sold by the daughter of a wealthy local knight, Sir George Tunberry, without his knowledge, and the dealer, Lance Foppington, is having to fend off the attentions of another young dealer, John Townly, who’s threatening to spill the beans. There’s also a couple of young businessmen staying in the hotel. They’re supposed to be in Aberdeen, at a conference, but they’ve skived off to have some fun in Scarborough instead. One of them spends his time talking to his family on his mobile, pretending to be at the conference, while the other has been caught by his girlfriend having sex with her sister, and now his entire family are giving him earache about it.
In 1942, there’s a regular shindig going on off stage, as some of the pilots are drinking to celebrate a successful mission, except it turns out one of them has been grounded. There’s a mother and daughter also staying at the hotel – the mother has recently lost her husband, and the daughter’s husband is MIA. The main storyline for this period, though, is the mysterious wife swap that one of the guests has done, starting out with wife A, then bringing wife B back from the theatre, and finally reappearing with wife A again. What can this mean? Pestle and Gander are determined to find out, which they do, but sadly without persuading wife B she’s in danger.
All these stories were nicely interwoven, and it was remarkably easy to tell which period we were in. Lighting helped, and the costumes of course. There was a band for the party who gave us music throughout, appropriate to the time zone we were in, and joined in some of the dialogue. The best bits for me were the three airmen giving us their impression of the Andrews sisters (well worth the price of admission alone), Gander’s explanation for deciding to shout “corporal” at wife B (she’s too young to be a sergeant, too intelligent to be a private, and too good-looking to be an officer), and the final revelations in the original time zone, with Lord Foppington getting his comeuppance, and his brother getting a wife.
As usual, this was a good ensemble performance, but I did enjoy some parts a little more than others. I was interested to see Ben Lambert playing the various incarnations of John Townly; he was in French Without Tears last February, standing in at short notice for another actor, and did a very good job. He was fine here, allowing for the fact that his Scottish accent in the early stages was meant to be terrible. Richard Stacey as the penniless brother, the grounded Flight Lieutenant, and one of the modern businessmen, was amazing as the lead Andrews sister, and gave a good account of the 1800s stuff. They were all allowed to really mug up their asides to the audience, and they made full use of it. And Terence Booth, who also stepped in last year to help out in If I Were You, another Ayckbourn, gave us a fine pair of comedy villains in Lord Foppington and his degenerate descendant Lance Foppington, the crooked dealer, slipping in a cameo as Len “the spiv” Foppington just for good measure.
It’s hard to put any more detail to this now, as it all blends together so quickly in my mind. We would have seen this again at the Connaught if we’d had a free night, but as it is, we’re glad we’re saw it last night.
© 2008 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me