Talisman Theatre, Kenilworth, until Saturday (February 10)
Reviewer: Peter McGarry
This starts out like a poor village hall production, but then gets better. Unfortunately, it doesn’t get much better.
At a basic level, it could be acceptable as a routine domestic comedy. But Alan Ayckbourn’s 1974 play, from a period when the author was at his darkest and funniest best, is anything but routine. It explores, with gleeful tongue in cheek, aspects of human nature which would in the real world be quickly swept under the carpet.
In a comparatively short running time, it evokes the sensitive issue of just how awkward people can be when it comes to handling tragedy in others. Through the character of Colin, whose fiancée has drowned, we watch the ineffectual efforts of friends to ply him with support through gushing platitudes and a ghastly tea party.
Two performances in Vanessa Comer’s otherwise lacklustre production come near to saving the day. Matt Baxter’s Colin breezes in on a note of cheery optimism and through some nicely-judged playing underpins the irony of what can best be seen as role reversal. The character’s own form of insensitivity outshines the well-intended, fumbling support of his social circle.
Of the gathered friends, Caroline McCluskey’s outwardly ebullient Marge effectively displays her own inner demons of having to exert her mothering instincts solely on a permanently sickly husband. The others go through the motions of intermingled relationships without flair or subtlety.
Ayckbourn cleverly creates comedy chaos, but it never becomes farce. His characters, under a thinly humorous veneer, suffer varying degrees of embarrassment and sadness.
Without this kind of depth, we’re back to the routine – and the dull.