House and Garden, Shaftesbury Arts Centre

handgtrioALAN Ayckbourn’s twin plays House and Garden are set simultaneously in the sitting room of the house and the lawns of the garden on the day a government advisor is coming to offer a top job and the village fete is scheduled.

Like most of the writer’s works, these are stories of ordinary people in accelerated situations, with all their hopes and foibles writ large.

It is the home of Teddy, a blustering philanderer, his exasperated wife Trish and their moody teenage daughter Sally.

Their staff include the very strange trio of Issie the cook/housekeeper, her daughter Pearl and their companion, the gardner Warn.

Down the garden live local GP Miles, his batty wife Joanna and their son, the smitten Jake.

Barry and Lindy Love are the local shop-­keepers and fete organisers, and the visitors include an obscure French film actress, her agent and Gavin Ryng-Mayne the politico/ novelist.

11703127_482648098565395_5269143606824415449_nThe stories of affairs, seductions, menages-a-trois and alcohol depen­dency unfold under the threatening storm in the garden and inside the house, and although the plays are free-standing, you really need to see both to get the whole picture.

It’s a difficult challenge for an amateur company, with the same cast of 14 in each play, complex sets and fast and furious action, and all praise to Shaftesbury Arts Centre Drama Group for pulling it off so convincingly.

Director Mark Blackham, a devoted fan of Ayckbourn, has been working with his team since April to get the timing right.  It IS possible to perform both plays together, with the actors going between the two, but that requires two interlinked spaces with audience seating in both.  I don’t know if it is easier or more difficult for the actors to perform them, as here, on alternate nights, but if it is they coped magnificently with the task.

11692518_482646715232200_4874586579798524222_nYou need a French speaker for the play, and Marie Stubbs was able to revert to her native tongue for this part, in which only a couple of words are spoken in English.

There are some stunning performances in this production, perhaps most notably from Fred Wopat as Giles, Myra McDadd as the emotionless Izzie, Sophie Lester as Pearl, Alex Chase plumbing hitherto unsuspected depths as Jake, and David Luxton and Rachel Sargent as Barry and Lindy – in Garden, which I saw first on Saturday, it was their arrival that brought much needed pace and energy to the performance.

House has the more thorough explanations, and here Janine Rutter shone as Trish.  The talented Stephen McDadd was a shade too loveable as Teddy, lacking the selfish bombast of the character.

Wine won’t ever be quite the same after Dominic Burd’s oleagin­ous discourse, and Helen Purdue was a recognisably difficult teenager.

Joni Clowrey managed her unhingement with poignant skill. and John Roberts-Davies got a laugh for every nuance of Warn’s almost wordless appearances. And Jennifer Trenchard has the difficult task of keeping the celebrity off the juice and on the wagon.

Whether you see it from the house or the garden, it’s an evening well spent at the theatre, and the plays are on at SAC until 18th July.


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