I suppose the title’s a bit of a giveaway. Ayckbourn’s play, first performed in 1975, tells the story of four couples whose activities over a single night take place variously in three bedrooms.
And farce? Well, all the basic elements are there, the quickfire dialogue, the embarrassing situations, usually involving some form of undress, the misunderstandings and the successive exits and entrances performed at speed. Only the traditional vicar seems to be missing.
The action revolves around a party, given by Malcolm and Kate (Niall Costigan and Eleanor Wyld), a skittish young couple with a penchant for hiding each other’s shoes. Then there’s sensible, practical Jan (Emily Wachter) whose husband Nick (David Partridge) is confined to bed with a bad back.
He never gets to go the actual party (but then, come to that, nor does the audience), while Delia (Penelope Beaumont) and Ernest (Graham Seed) are the older couple. Delia is overly concerned with her appearance and status, while Ernest seems interested only in the various flaws in his house, poetic justice being achieved when he is finally banished to the spare room which has a damp patch in the ceiling, something which has been worrying him for some time.
Then there are Trevor (Mawgan Gyles) and Susannah (Emma Noakes), both flawed characters who seem to be incapable of being in the same room without flying at each other’s throats. As well as being the only ones without a bedroom of their own, they are, of course, the main catalyst for the action, the cause of all the mayhem and potential disaster that follows.
Because this is farce, stereotypes abound and women are definitely in control. When Delia advises Susannah, "Feed him, make sure he has clean clothes and never tell him anything you don’t have to," there are almost universal nods of agreement from the female members of the audience and we know, don’t we, that Trevor is never going to put that flat-pack desk together successfully?
Being Ayckbourn, there are dark moments of course. Susannah’s obvious mental instability evokes uneasy sympathy, but there is plenty of laughter as well and much appreciative applause.
Great care has been taken with this production. To accommodate the three bedrooms, the acting space has been moved from the stage area to the centre of the theatre, with the audience all round, Ayckbourn’s favourite way of working.
So all the overhead lighting has had to be moved as well as the seating for the audience. An enormous undertaking. At least they’re going to be able to use it for their next production, Separate Tables, in October.
And, oh yes, Graham Seed. I can’t be the only one, can I, who felt the emotional impact of Nigel Pargetter’s (his character in The Archers) death and even worried a bit about what the actor would do next? Well, it’s nice to know he’s here in Salisbury for a while and in a production for which it’s already proving quite difficult to get tickets.
Yes, it might be slightly dated but it really is that popular.
Reviewer: Anne Hill