Written and directed by Alan Ayckbourn
Venue: Yvonne Arnaud Theatre
Date: Friday 24th January 2014
I’m not sure if we saw this play during the original run or on a later tour – the records are in our personal Bermuda Triangle – but I remembered the setup if not the details very soon after it started. The location was a restaurant, and the occasion a birthday party for wife and mother Laura. The rest of the party included her husband Gerry, her sons Glyn and Adam, Glyn’s pregnant wife Stephanie and Adam’s girlfriend/fiancée Maureen. The waiters, all played by Ben Porter, were part of the occasion too, as the family had been coming to that restaurant for many years.
The main table for the party was placed centrally towards the back of the stage on a raised level. There were steps down on either side of this platform and two more tables on the lower floor, one on each side of the stage. These were used for inserted scenes which showed us the relationships of the two sons and their respective partners, one pair going forward in time from the party and the other going back to their first meeting. It might sound confusing, but Ayckbourn is a master at taking the audience anywhere he wants them to go, and we’re always very willing to take these trips with him.
The opening scene was a jumble of dialogue, leading up to Maureen having to rush off to be sick. The party broke up shortly after this, with Glyn and Stephanie heading off home and Adam and Maureen leaving as well. Laura and Gerry stayed for a while longer, topping up the coffee and, as the arguments began and the revelations started to come out, topping up on brandy as well. Ernesto, the proprietor (also played by Ben Porter) joined them at one point for more alcohol and some drunken reminiscences, so when Laura and Gerry finally did leave they were both well over the limit.
The details of what happened after the party emerged through the intervening scenes with Glyn and Stephanie, and we saw them go through a number of changes in their relationship as well as hearing about the changes in the other characters’ lives. At the other table, Adam and Maureen’s relationship went back through their various meetings until their first encounter, when Adam mistook Maureen for a prostitute (it’s a long story). Both couples were haunted by a singing waiter (Ben Porter again) while Stephanie was constantly being encouraged to eat more by one of the other waiters. She kept refusing until an emotional event triggered a sudden desire to stuff her face with just about every dessert from the trolley!
The play ended with the beginning of the birthday party, and Ernesto showing Laura and Gerry to their table. It was an appropriate way to finish, similar in many ways to Time And The Conways, but this play isn’t as strong as Priestley’s. It was pleasant enough, and the actors all did good work, but the stories were a bit too predictable. Not Ayckbourn’s best piece, but as it turned out it was a very good companion to his new play Arrivals And Departures, and as always, it was fun to see the same group of actors playing very different roles.
© 2014 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me