A ROUNDELAY is a circular dance, or a song with a line repeated as chorus, or anything circular, and this new work from Alan Ayckbourn is certainly at least one of those three; an evening of circular entertainment.
Part of the Brechtian nature of Ayckbourn is that he sometimes likes us to see the scaffold, the structure, the fact that we are sitting in a theatre watching a play. All of the publicity for this work makes it clear that he has written five half-hour plays, all of which work on their own, and each of which has interconnections with the others, from a mention of a character in another play, to major plot overlaps.
In the original production, at the company’s home theatre in Scarborough, all five were played out at each performance, the order having been selected by ballot about an hour before the show started, but as this meant a running time of almost three hours, on the tour at some venues only four plays are performed each time. This is a shame, as we did not see one of the plays this evening, and although it may mean that more people can catch buses and trains, we only saw four fifths of this work, and I may even try to catch the play I missed later on the tour, at a venue which is braver with its timing. What a relief they did not choose to do the same with the recent Henrys from the RSC.
That aside, parts of all four plays performed this evening, The Judge, The Star, The Novelist and The Politician, contained nods to vintage Ayckbourn, with loud and prolonged laughter from the audience whilst protagonists were suffering on stage, much off-stage happening, from a Mikado rehearsal to a massive storm, and complete misunderstanding of double meanings, causing farcical consequences.
The acting, tightly directed by the author himself, was completely natural, never once slipping from completely believable character into caricature, and drawing us into the reality of each situation, so that we were ready for a shock, a twist, a horribly personal climax, after which life just carries on as normal, as is so often the way in an Ayckbourn play.
This is a fun idea, probably not the best Ayckbourn of all time, but just as clever as The Norman Conquests, where the same plot is observed in three different spaces in the same house in three different plays, Sisterly Feelings, where the audience has a choice of second and third scenes, and most recently House and Garden, two plays with the same cast of characters played simultaneously in two neighbouring auditoria, and it is interesting that our most prolific living published playwright is able to do these things, just because he can. A thoroughly entertaining evening, inspired apparently by the award-winning graphic novel Building Stories in which the reader chooses the order of the stories within the novel, thus affecting the overall perception, and it may be interesting to see the plays of Roundelay in a different order, but only if I can see all five, please.