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Bedroom Farce

Alan Ayckbourn
A Peter Hall Production
Yvonne Arnaud Theatre, Guildford, and touring
(2010)

Bedroom Farce production photo

It is with some trepidation that I approach a show entitled Bedroom Farce. Visions of near misses, mistaken identity and lost trousers come to mind, but this is Alan Ayckbourn, a master of situation comedy and the writer of more than seventy plays. He knows what he’s about, drawing his characters so expertly and meticulously that it would be difficult not to recognise in them people you know - or maybe even yourself.

There are three bedrooms all lined up on the stage, and Simon Higlett has followed the writer’s intentions with equal expertise, meticulously creating the rooms to depict the nineteen seventies decor associated with each lifestyle, from the very ‘Home Counties’ style of traditional elegance with delicate furnishings and a high bed suitable for an older couple, to a trendily modern brass-bedsteaded room for the upwardly mobile and the chaotic, half decorated abode of young newly-weds more into playing practical jokes on each other than concentrating on the business of tidying up before their intended party. “You can tell a great deal from people’s bedrooms”.

Peter Mumford’s lighting is an essential and very effective ingredient of the production, spotlighting each room in turn as Peter Hall keeps the action moving from one to another with breakneck speed.

In the first bedroom Delia (Juliet Mills) and Ernest (Bruce Montague) are preparing to celebrate their anniversary in the usual way, a meal at a restaurant which they visit regularly - once every year. The excitement has long gone out of their marriage but they are comfortable and happy with each other, she intent on the extended business of applying her ‘face’ and he more concerned with the possible leak in the roof. Quick switch to the trendy Nick (Maxwell Caulfield) and Jan (Clare Wilkie), where Nick is no longer mobile, being confined to bed with a slipped disc and he spends the whole play either in bed or on the floor. Click again and we’re with Kate (Julia Mallam) and Malcolm (Ayden Callaghan) happily spraying foam and chasing each other about with much shrieking and giggling before the arrival of their guests causes more chaos.

So the scene is set. We know the people and we know the situation. What we don’t know is that intruding into each bedroom in turn will be the son of Delia and Ernest together with his partner Susannah (Natasha Alderslade) creating havoc and turmoil at every turn.

As the intrusive Tevor, excellent actor Oliver Boot seems disappointingly to have based his character on Neil Morrissey’s Tony in Men Behaving Badly, so ineffectual, idiotic and selfish that it becomes ridiculous, and his partner Susannah is just as bad. Neurotic, intense and insecure, she is constantly chanting self-improvement mantras to calm herself and build confidence. They don’t seem to work! Perhaps I have been lucky but I don’t recall meeting anyone quite like them before.

Apart from these two I could empathise with every one of the couples. At different stages in life I seem to have been each one of them and can understand their feelings, and it would appear that the Guildford audience felt the same from the laughter in all the right places. Bedroom Farce is not a ‘rolling in the aisles doubled up with laughter’ comedy and a little predictable, but gently amusing, and an Ayckbourn always brings the audience flocking. The theatre was packed.

Touring to Wolverhampton, Windsor and Cambridge

Seth Ewin reviewed this production at the King's, Edinburgh

Reviewer: Sheila Connor