Ayckbourn Ensemble triple bill at Bath Theatre Royal

FarcicalsAS he approaches his 75th birthday, Alan Ayckbourn proves with his latest plays that his extraordinary powers of observation are undulled, but perhaps his lengthy period of disliking most of the human race is at an end.

His own ensemble from the Stephen Joseph Theatre in Scarborough is currently on a UK tour, prior to a Broadway transfer in May, and Bath Theatre Royal was fortunate to be included among the few venues.

There were two world premiere productions, of Arrivals and Departures and Farcicals, and a revival of the 20-year-old Time of My Life, performed in one long day at Bath on Saturday after various combinations during the preceding week.

Farcicals is two one act farces, The Kidderminster Affair and Chloe with Love, set in the gardens of Penny and Reggie and Teddy and Lottie. In both, the mousy Lottie, riven with self-doubt, is concerned that her husband might be having an affair. As Ayckbourn says, they include the essential elements of farce – dropped trousers and mistaken identities – and they are properly hilarious.

Time of My Life is set in a restaurant, which according to the programme has an Italian name but is probably Turkish. There are five waiters and the proprietor, all played by the same actor (Ben Porter) glorying in a peculiarly Mancunian foreign accent.

Every year in living memory Berry has brought Laura to the restaurant for her birthday, and it is also the favourite venue for family meals throughout the year.

This is Laura’s 54th, and she and her businessman husband are joined by their son Glyn and his recently-reunited wife Stephanie, and Laura’s favourite son Adam with his unsuitable new girlfriend Maureen. As the evening progresses the cruel and calculating Laura manages to ruin the occasion for everyone, at the same time as convincing herself she’s being loving and caring. Sarah Parks gives a point perfect reading of this monstrous woman.

Arrivals and Departures is set in a railway station in London, where Army and Secret Service have mounted a combined operation to catch a suspected terrorist. Time of My LifeThere is only one person who can definitely identify the man, and he’s Barry, a northern traffic warden brought down to join the search. He is to be guarded by a young Army officer, Ez, a woman whose own career is in the balance after an unfortunate incident at her barracks.

As the operation to capture the suspect is rehearsed around them, Ez and Barry spend the available half hour together, he trying to establish some sort of communication, she avoiding all human contact.

The first half of the play is illuminated by Ez’s own thoughts, the second by Barry’s, in one of Ayckbourn’s most skillful manipulations of time and observation.

In turns funny and heart-breakingly poignant, the story moves to its unexpected conclusion, taking side-swipes at the unreal world inhabited by the “brains” behind the armed forces and the inadvisability of judging by appearances.

It’s a tour-de-force for Elizabeth Boag and Kim Wall, and a vivid illustration of the fact that Ayckbourn is not just the country’s most prolific and popular playwright, but a man who still has much to say about the world in which we live.

These are plays we will be seeing for many years to come, and the Americans are in for a treat.



Photographs by Tony Batholomew show Kim Wall and Rachael Caffrey as Barry and his daughter Daisy in Arrivals and Departures, Elizabeth Boag as Penny and Sarah Stanley as Lottie in Farcicals and Sarah Parks as Laura in Time of My Life.

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