By Alan Ayckbourn
Directed by Alan Strachan
Venue: Yvonne Arnaud Theatre
Date: Monday 13th October 2008
I liked this even more than I expected to. As is typical of Ayckbourn, this is a very good comedy, and this production is very well cast, so we had a great time.
The play covers three consecutive Christmas Eve gatherings, but we see only the kitchens. The first act is in the kitchen of Jane (Sara Crowe) and Sidney (Matthew Cottle); she’s into cleaning, he’s a handy man with a general store. They’re social climbers who are social misfits in terms of the people they’ve invited over for drinks. They’re so nervous that they end up behaving in completely bizarre ways, such as standing outside in the rain so as not to let on that you’ve had to go out and get some tonic water.
The second kitchen belongs to Eva (Honeysuckle Weeks) and Geoffrey (Marc Bannerman), and is a total mess. Eva doesn’t say a word until she starts singing at the end of the scene, having spent most of it trying to commit suicide and being hampered by the well-meaning assistance of her guests for the evening. Jane cleans her cooker, Sidney attempts to unblock her sink, and Ronald tries to repair the ceiling light fitting, electrocuting himself in the process. It’s darker than the first scene (and not just because the lights go out), but incredibly funny as well, for all the misery. Honeysuckle Weeks showed remarkable agility in taking all sorts of tumbles.
The third scene is set in Marion (Deborah Grant) and Ronald’s (David Griffin) kitchen. Here the social turnaround is complete, as Jane and Sidney are doing very well now his business has taken off, while Marion’s alcoholism is rampant and Ronald the bank manager is having to suck up to his most important customer, Sidney. Geoffrey also needs Sidney’s help, as he’s an architect who could do with some work from the new shopping centre/megastore Sidney’s involved in.
The humour is only partly about the social manoeuvrings, though. There’s a lot of physical comedy, especially in the second act when Eva is trying to kill herself and nobody notices. She keeps leaving goodbye notes on the kitchen table, only for the other characters to grab a bit of paper for something, and so she has to do it all again. Finally she skewers the note to the table with an enormous knife, before attempting to hang herself from the light fitting. This is what leads Ronald to attempt to fix the light fitting, as they all assume that that was what she was trying to do. It’s a really funny scene, which is amazing given the subject matter, and full of wonderful comic touches, such as Eva picking the clothes pegs off the washing line to get her rope.
The final act gives Marion a chance to play grab-the-gin-bottle, which was brilliantly funny, but otherwise it’s much darker, as the characters who were on top in the first act now find themselves at the mercy of the ever cheerful Jane and Sidney. They’re the kind of people who don’t go away when there’s no response to the doorbell; they just sneak round the back to see if they can find a way in. Definitely a reason to book a holiday abroad, but make sure they’re not going to do the same thing first!
It was a good fun evening, and I enjoyed seeing an earlier Ayckbourn again.
© 2008 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me