When you ask Barrie Atchison to direct an Ayckbourn play it’s like recruiting Jose Mourinho to manage your football team, you are guaranteed a safe pair of hands, and success. And so it proved on this, the opening night.
Although the word farce is in the title, this is a comedy. There are no banging doors, or falling trousers. Atchison eschews a Seventies set and fashion for the contemporary, and the script survives being wrenched from the period to the present surprisingly well.
The single set comprises three bedrooms on two levels for four couples. John Islip and his stage team have done a tremendous job cramming the bedroom paraphernalia of three very different couples into a relatively small space.
First performed in 1977, the comedy explores the fissures in four marriages. The only bedroom-less couple, the roving and highly neurotic Susannah and Trevor (Louise Farmer and Jimmy-Joe Corbett) drag and impose their problems around the other three bedrooms, creating chaos in their wake, not least on the best set-piece of the night, when their fight ruins a house party.
The older couple, Ernest and Delia (Allan Lane and Hazel Evans),go wild by sharing tinned fish in bed, and anchor the night with a warm, characterful performance. Lane’s grumpy old man becomes grumpier and grumpier, Evans’ dutiful wife becomes wilier and wilier in dealing with her long standing marriage partner.
Nick and Jan (Jon Hall and Emma Woodcock) bitter , irritable, and resigned, have both settled for second best, know it, and accept their lot. Hall has to play the physical comedy for all its worth as he is incapacitated by a bad back for proceedings, Woodcock is sassy and lively opposite him, barely suppressing her frustration with her supine husband
Malcolm and Kate (Dave Douglas and Hellie England), provide the froth and pace, but they have their secrets too amidst silly bedroom games . Crucially, England injects vital enthusiasm and dynamism to the production after the scene setting opening.
Aykbourn’s take on marriage is a little bleak, but the play is always funny. The appallingly selfish, Trevor and Susannah expose the fault lines in other people’s marriages, all of which survive the examination. Any man who has ever had to assemble flat pack furniture will laugh out loud, as will any woman who has found herself having to get dressed in a tight situation.
Director Barrie Atchison grasps the mechanical demands of an Ayckbourn play admirably, juxtaposing rueful, disquieting home truths with knock-about comedy. A witty and rewarding evening’s entertainment. “You can learn a lot from people’s bedrooms”
Bedroom Farce runs until Saturday 28th March.