Working from the premise that we tend not to recognise the moments in life when we are truly happy as they happen, Alan Ayckbourn’s 1992 play centres on one pivotal evening for one family. Gerry (David Lucas) is hosting a Birthday party for his wife Laura (Joanna Pope) at their favourite Italian restaurant; their older son Glyn (John Pickard) comes along with Stephanie (Tansy Adair), the wife to whom he has recently returned after a brief fling, and their younger son Adam (Joe Leather) introduces to the family his new girlfriend, Maureen (Lucy Formby), a hairdresser. It seems very unlikely that any of these characters would have been truly happy during this evening of petty bickering, but the play veers off, intercutting the central scene with scenes following Glyn and Stephanie after the event and (in reverse chronological order) Adam and Maureen before it. Ayckbourn is not the first dramatist to play around with time in this way, but he uses the technique cleverly to give the audience all the insight and knowledge needed to share in his deeply cynical view of family life. We see clearly that all of these characters are putting themselves in straightjackets to conform with what the family expects and none is able to find a way to break free, until this key evening. It would be easy to view this family as matriarchal, but Ayckbourn denies that easy option by showing that Laura is an equal victim; she bears no affection for Glyn, has no interest in the grandchildren that her sons are intent on giving her and longs only to look after dogs, which Gerry forbids. Director Law Ballard’s production has six well judged performances amongst which the two “outsiders” stand out – Adair’s Stephanie is a woefully put-upon wife and mother until a moment of truth over a dessert trolley transforms her and Formby’s Maureen is gloriously awkward, wearing a different hairstyle in each scene and choosing the wrong outfit for every occasion. Also on hand to provide welcome light comedy is Adam Wittek, playing the restaurant owner and five different waiters. After a number of recent Ayckbourn revivals in large theatres which have tended to show the Scarborough bard’s work as not ageing too well, it is good to report that this one still looks good and the intimacy of the venue must be a contributing factor. A highly competent production.
Performance date: 6 March 2015