ALAN Ayckbourn loves a good idea, such as playing with location, as in RolePlay, a former choice by Dramatic Productions one of three otherwise-unrelated plays set in the same Docklands apartment, or with character, as in last year’s new work Roundelay with five main characters in their own half-hour play, whilst all featuring in the other works, and even with different floors in the same property as part of one, same-level, set, with Taking Steps. Inspired by the way that J B Priestley plays with time, Ayckbourn’s 44th play, Time Of My Life, first performed in 1993, shows the events of one evening, at a family birthday party in a favourite restaurant, whilst also taking us back two months in time, and forward two years, as the two sons of the family dine at the same restaurant before and after the evening of the party. We therefore follow three separate strands of time, and the lives of the characters developing, in real time, as well as quickly into the future and backwards.
The secret of making Ayckbourn enjoyable, in my opinion, is to make every single character on the stage completely believable, and this company manage this very well. I saw many of tonight’s actors in RolePlay two years ago, but in the same way that familiar television or film actors can easily convince us they are someone different, this company stops short of caricature and plays with a natural and believable style that had audience members sighing with sadness at one character’s demise, and drew gentle smiles as a young couple’s relationship developed in reverse, even with our knowledge of how it was going to end.
Julia Saville and Timothy Lowe, as Laura and Gerry, are on stage for virtually the whole production, often frozen and in darkness, but there nevertheless, and dominating the action, as their influence does in every scene, and these two actors are masters of their art: even when Julia seemed to stumble over a word or two she stumbled in character, and found her words in style. Their older son Glyn and his wife Stephanie, played by Steve Rollins and Celia Muir respectively, had to go through many emotions as they experience pregnancy, death of a parent, separation, reconciliation, and finally divorce, and I believed every part of their journey. Some of Rollins’s words can run into one another, partly from the Northern accent, but as a dysfunctional couple they were very realistic, and it was Muir who drew the audible sigh from the audience as we shared her sadness. Tom Barber Duffy and Rebecca Legrand were younger (and favourite) son Adam and his latest girlfriend Maureen, and they were both very careful not to fall into obvious stereotype, particularly Legrand, with a genuine innocence and naivety rather than just playing a dumb blonde. Their relationship was a delight to watch, with its gradually reducing intensity as the time moved backwards to their first meeting, demanding finely crafted acting from both. The Common Man of this play is one actor playing the owner of the restaurant and also all the waiting staff, including one female and a singing waiter, with a lovely voice, and this again was a finely tuned performance by Alan Colclough, giving a different nuance to each member of the Calvinu family, from a made-up country somewhere between Eastern Europe and the Mediterranean with equally made-up speciality dishes. His timing and physicality added to the humour without ever stealing the scene or taking us out of reality.
Director and Producer Tracy Jane Murray is certainly a name to look out for if you like your theatre well-done. She should be extremely proud of her company, and of her directing talents, and I look forward to future productions, particularly from Mr Ayckbourn’s ever-growing canon.