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Bedroom Farce

Alan Ayckbourn
Rose, Kingston upon Thames
(2009)

Production photo

With no mobile phones in sight, the timeline is circa 1975, the year that Alan Ayckbourn’s comedy was first performed in Scarborough.

Three double-bedrooms face us, side-by-side across the full width of the stage, suggesting an evening of hanky-panky. But this is no wife-swapping sex romp.

With his flair for cruel comedy Ayckbourn delivers a highly entertaining character study of our suburban apprehensions about love and marriage. At one point in the play even the words S.E.X and its coy synonym B.E.D are both spelt out in hushed tones.

First from the left is a comfortably furnished bedroom where the middle-aged Delia and Ernest, having celebrated their anniversary at an expensive restaurant, plan to enjoy a midnight feast of pilchards on toast and a few pages of Ernest’s favourite book Tom Brown’s Schooldays before lights out.

In the second room Malcolm and Kate, played with earthy good fun by Daniel Betts and Finty Williams, indulge in affectionate horseplay as they prepare to welcome guests to their housewarming party. These include Lucy Briers’ Jan, whose husband Nick (Tony Gardner) is lying in agony in the third bedroom with a seriously damaged spine.

But the troubles come with the fourth couple at the party. Trevor and his distraught wife Susannah spend most of the night falling in and out of love, before ending up at dawn snuggling down together in Malcolm and Kate’s bed, meanwhile having given everyone else hardly a wink of sleep as they move from house to house trying to resolve their broken marriage.

A walking disaster area, Susannah is given a starry portrayal by the slender Rachel Pickup as a demon of marital despair, muttering confidence-boosting mantras to keep her spirits up whenever she thinks she’s alone. And in a mad moment at the party her thick-skinned husband Trevor, portrayed with athletic bounce by Orlando Seale, plants a kiss on the willing lips of his former girlfriend Jan, then crassly goes off to apologise to Nick.

But the kiss is witnessed by the flaky Susannah who, in the wee small hours, descends on Trevor’s parents Delia and Ernest for tea and sympathy. Ayckbourn gives this older couple all the best comedy lines, delivered with deft drollery by Jane Asher and Nicholas Le Prevost in beautifully observed performances and with whom at least half the Kingston audience happily identified.

Impossible to spell out the intertwining plot developments, but one favourite moment comes when Tony Gardner as the injured Nick goes through a series of agonised gyrations to retrieve a book that has slithered off his bed. Another sight gag, even more hilarious, involves a self-assembly desk that Malcolm has spent the whole night putting together as a surprise gift for Kate, which disintegrates in slow motion at the chance touch of a horrified Trevor.

It is also worth noting that this fine Rose Theatre revival by Peter Hall is closely based on his original National Theatre staging at the Lyttelton in 1977 when Ayckbourn was his co-director. That production transferred successfully to the West End and to Broadway (with six of it British cast) and lf you missed it then, make sure you catch it now. The last Kingston performance is on 28th November.

Philip Fisher reviewed this production when it transferred to the Duke of York's

Reviewer: John Thaxter