A Chorus of Disapproval, Salisbury Playhouse

FORTY years after its premiere in Scarborough, Alan Ayckbourn’s A Chorus of Disapproval, the play set in and around an amateur production of John Gay’s A Beggar’s Opera, returns to Salisbury Playhouse for a four week run. With its cast of 13, it’s a big undertaking and director Gareth Machin is keen to point out to audiences that it also incorporates the Theatre Green Book initiative – so if you think you’ve seen those props before, you have.

The story centres round Guy Jones, a shy-but-talented recent widower who turns up at the Pendon Amateur Light Operatic Society as a way to get out into the world again. He can sing and he looks quite good, so, as various members of the cast withdraw from the production, he is promoted from walk on to lead – and of course the lead is Macheath, a celebrated highwayman with a very very roving eye, and wives to prove it.

In this play-within-a-play (his 29th of now 90 plays), Ayckbourn was honing his acerbic view of human nature, and almost everyone has a nasty little agenda. Here life copies art, and the hapless Guy finds himself embroiled in affairs with various women in the cast, while the men seek to use him to further their real-estate and financial interests. Gay’s songs are interspersed into the action, where they are as relevant to the current production as to the 1728 original, and anyone who has ever been involved in amateur dramatics can recognise the (albeit caricatured) types among the members.

The busy set is overseen by blustering director Dafydd Ap  Llewellyn (played by Robert Bowman, last seen in Salisbury as Prospero in last summer’s open air Tempest).

Damian Humbly convinces as Guy, beset by the affections of the lonely Hannah Llewellyn (Rebecca Cooper) and the swinging Fay (a hilarious Sasha Frost). Richard Hurst returns to Salisbury to play the other swinger and would-be property magnate Ian, with Andy Cryer suitably ghastly as corrupt councillor Jarvis Huntly-Pike. There’s someone like him in every council and every am dram soc. The girls (Bessy Ewa and Olivia Forrest) battle for the attentions of Crispin (George Olney), and Lloyd Notice, so excellent in The Tempest, shows his versatility with a beautifully-judged performance as Ted Washbrook, supported by his charmingly funny and caring wife Enid (Heather Williams.) Rebecca Sutton, as the unfortunate Mrs Huntley-Pike, is a ruler of the roost, and Ben Stock does his duty on the piano.

Some of the attempts to bring the show into the 21st century don’t quite work, but it’s a riot of song and attempted dance that obviously delighted the packed audience, and it’s on until 18th May.



Photographs by The Other Richard

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