Bedroom Farce, Close to the Mark at Shaftesbury Arts Centre and touring

THE first production by new Dorset company Close to the Mark burst onto the scene in triumph, delighting the packed Shaftesbury audience.

It is perhaps the sixth or seventh time I have seen this Ayck­bourn play, written 18 months after The Norman Conquests and certainly following Norman on his disaster-prone  travels through life, now in the guise of Trevor. It is always funny, but director (and Trevor) William Scott-Masson found fresh moments of fun, performing with a cast at the very top of their games.

Set over one eventful night, it is the story of Malcolm and Kate throwing a house-warming party, to which they have invited Trevor, his on-off estranged wife Susanna and his former girlfriend Jan.  Trevor’s parents, Ernest and Delia, are celebrating their anniversary, but their long-anticipated dinner has been a disappointment and they have retreated home, to bed, with pilchards on toast.

But their peace is short-lived.

Inevitably, Trevor and the super highly-strung Susannah have a row, she finds him with Jan, whose husband Nick is home in bed with a cricked back. Then Trevor tries to set the record straight with Nick, Susannah goes to visit Delia and Ernest to tell them about the problems with their son, and so on ….

It’s a farce in the classic dropped trousers, falling over, collapsing furniture style. But Bedroom Farce is much more than that. Ayckbourn’s cruelly funny take on human nature and the director’s keen ear for comedy make this a wincingly hilarious evening.

Jerome Swan and Rachel Sargent capture the well-worn conversation and tetchy concerns of old married couple Ernest and Delia. He is more concerned with a damp patch in the spare room than with an anniversary, pleased enough to settle down with the fish, and furious to be disturbed by the peculiar Susannah. Delia has a lifetime of the experience of making the best of things, and certainly feels that details of her son and his wife and their marital difficulties constitutes too much information. Besides, they’d much sooner he’d married Jan.

William Scott Masson’s Trevor is an old 70s rocker, flowing blond hair tied in a scarf and flares- a contagious disaster area walking on platform soles. Lucy Irwin’s distraught wife gives a masterclass in screaming hysteria. Poor Rupert Farrington is the exasperated Nick, with Nicki Porter as Jan.

This production has been staged in memory of the talented comedy actor Mark Boyden (pictured below left), who died earlier this year. His brother David plays the practical joking Malcolm, with Charlie Greenwood as his wife Kate. Her tai chi is magnificently funny.

The one problem was that the front two beds obscured the view of the rear bed – and most of the work on the surprise present. Every venue CTTM visits is different, and perhaps they will have more space for the other five performances. If not, smaller beds might be required.

Other than that it’s a wonderfully realised look at an Ayckbourn classic, and you won’t see the play better done anywhere.

See it also at St Mary’s in Shaftesbury on Saturday 23rd November or The Exchange at Sturminster Newton on  Thursday 28th, Godolphin School in Salisbury or on Saturday 14th December at East Knoyle Village Hall. The tour is raising funds for an awareness of the charity Ataxia UK, to research into the rare degenerative neurological disorder.


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