THE rarely-performed 1979 Alan Ayckbourn play Taking Steps, regarded as his only true farce, had a welcome outing at the Tivoli in Wimborne by courtesy of the excellent Churchill company, again directed by Pete Talman.
Set on three floors of a dilapidated Victorian mansion miles out of town, and originally played on a flat stage, it has all the vital ingredients – mistaken identity, lots of doors and stairs and dropped pants.
The characters in Ayckbourn’s 24th play are a good deal more likeable and recognisable than in some of those surrounding it in the chronology, and Wimborne audiences clearly enjoyed making their acquaintance.
Roland is a successful businessman who has made his fortune in buckets, and married Elizabeth, a dancer from one of the company’s video advertisements. He has rented The Pines, a former brothel and said to be haunted, from its builder owner Leslie Bainbridge.
Elizabeth’s brother Mark has ambitions to run a fishing tackle shop, and is “engaged” to Kitty, even though she had jilted him at the alter.
As the play opens, Elizabeth is writing a Dear John letter to Roland, and has asked Mark round to The Pines to comfort him when he reads it. What she doesn’t know is that Kitty, recently picked up by the police for soliciting, is due in to the station and Mark is going to collect her.
Stir in the hopeful Bainbridge and Tristram, the nervy solicitor who has arrived to complete the purchase transaction.
And its a cold and windy night in the damp and creaking Pines, where the ghost of a murdered tart is rumoured to fatally haunt the beds of likely young men.
The women play a perpetual game of will-she-won’t-she as businessman, builder and solicitor succumb to the power of alcohol, and poor Mark stumbles from one catastrophe to another.
The Churchill company proved again how lucky Dorset audiences are, with detailed and skillful direction coupled with perfect comic timing from the exceptional cast – Justin Ellery, Graham Haigh, Andy Oldfield, Mark Ritchie, Sammy Upton and Jan Wyld.
They just get better and better.