Theatre by the Lake, Keswick
A couple of things that would normally be expected to bring in holiday audiences are a farce and an Ayckbourn, so you'd think that an Ayckbourn play with "farce" in the title would be a pretty sure banker.
Except that you never get quite what you expect from Ayckbourn. If you want a true farce, John Chapman's Dry Rot is playing in rep in the same season, but Ayckbourn's 1975 play is more of a deconstructed farce, with all of the elements that make up a farce but not put together to create that gradual increase in pace and embarrassment until everything falls to pieces. There is rather more light and shade throughout.
In a typical Ayckbourn touch, the play takes place simultaneously in three bedrooms in different houses; Martin Johns's set design shows them all side-by-side and brings out the class differences between the occupants clearly, also adding some nicely-authentic seventies touches. In this way, the action is able to instantly cut between locations in a very filmic style.
The central bedroom is occupied by wealthy older couple Ernest and Delia whose son Trevor, we hear, is having difficulties in his marriage to Susannah, although they would both have preferred him to have married previous girlfriend Jan. These scenes are beautifully, slowly paced from the opening of the play when not a word is spoken for an age as he waits for her to finish her make-up so that they can go to their anniversary dinner. This pace and peace is destined to be shattered.
The first bedroom is that of the aforementioned Jan and her husband Nick, who has injured his back and is confined to bed while Jan gets ready, much to Nick's disgust, to go to Malcolm and Kate's housewarming party. Nick is especially upset when he finds that Jan's ex Trevor will be there.
The final bedroom is Malcolm and Kate's, barely-furnished and with unfinished decorations. This is the room for the guests' coats at the party and for some disputes to be resolved, as Trevor and Susannah's marital difficulties ruin the young couple's carefully-organised party.
This isn't Noises Off, the brilliantly-staged farce in last year's summer season, but then, despite the title, it isn't written to be. Director Stefan Escreet brings out the mini-farces of the individual scenes while keeping the more varied pace of the piece as a whole nicely-balanced.
Stephen Aintree and Maggie Tagney are wonderful as older couple Ernest and Delia. Adrian Metcalfe gets across all of the acid wit of Nick, making the most of his injury to try to get the attention of his wife Jan, also given a solid portrayal by Zöe Mills. Chris Hannon judges the annoying and unpredictable character of Trevor perfectly, partnered with an extremely insecure and neurotic Susannah played superbly by Louise Yates.
There is a great performance also from Jessica Ellis as Kate, who plays a perfect straight man to the extremely volatile Malcolm, given the stand-out performance of the production—in a pretty strong cast—by George Banks who loses his temper in a ludicrously over-the-top manner that still seems believable and, consequently, is hilarious.
So while Bedroom Farce may not be what you expect from the title, Ayckbourn never is if he is done properly, and this is a very good and entertaining revival with some moments of real hilarity.
Reviewer: David Chadderton