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Drowning on Dry Land

Alan Ayckbourn
Salisbury Playhouse
(2008)

Production photo

Not the best of Ayckbourn's numerous works exposing human fallibility. Nor even the best of his plays focussing on the cult of celebrity - that title surely belongs to an earlier piece, Man of the Moment.

Yet a good house in Salisbury clearly enjoyed Sarah Esdaile's production, raising the curtain on the new season this week with an amusing performance of a playwright at his most cynically revealing.

Playhouse Artistic Director Philip Wilson has already shown a fascination with "lost" plays. The black comedy Corpse was his first production for the house months before his appointment, since when he has rediscovered Priestley's People at Sea and this autumn he will direct his own adaptation of J.L Carr's Great War Remembrance entitled A Month in the Country.

If there is a prime target for the critic in this Ayckbourn it is the central character Charlie Conrad, played almost entirely without style by Stuart Laing.

Perhaps this is deliberate, since, when a noted soap star appeared in the original production, audiences decided it was his story Ayckbourn was telling. In this case it is impossible to find any charisma in the role - albeit there have been famous impersonators whose off-stage persona has been equally bland.

That said, there is no shortage of colour in the company as a whole. Polly Maberly is an attractive Linzi while Leanne Best is striking as the ill-fated TV interviewer, Gale.

And there is a particularly strong performance from Hannah Watkins as children's entertainer, Marsha.

Laurence Kennedy, too, gives a fine account as the high-powered lawyer, Hugo, a characterisation that puts many of us in mind of at least one famous actor.

Francis O'Connor's design has a distinct touch of Hitchcock about it and the entire proceedings represent a mighty swipe at the culture which Ayckbourn, not for the first or last time, had clearly in his sights.

The production continues until Saturday 27 September.

Reviewer: Kevin Catchpole