House and Garden

Alan Ayckbourn
The Watermill
The Watermill Theatre

The cast of House Credit: Philip Tull
Jessica Woo, Cate Hammer, Nanou Harry and Robert Mountford in Garden Credit: Philip Tull
Nanou Harry and Tim Treloar Credit: Philip Tull

Newbury’s Watermill Theatre continues its 50th anniversary celebrations with a spirited and splendid production of Alan Ayckbourn’s House and Garden. The two plays are performed simultaneously: House in the theatre and Garden in the beautiful grounds; they can be viewed in any order and are tremendous fun.

You can see both plays on Thursdays and Saturdays, which is highly recommended to understand the full intricacies of the characters' lives.

I saw Garden first on a beautiful June afternoon with the sun shining, sitting on banks of tiered seating.

It’s the annual village garden fête courtesy of the Platt family, much to the angst of Warn, the gruff gardener (Gary Pillai), who has removed the direction signs and can’t get the mower started.

Teddy, the patriarch of this dysfunctional household, outstandingly played by Tim Treloar, is a womaniser who is having a passionate affair with his neighbour’s wife Joanna, sensitively portrayed by Cate Hamer.

Their assignations happen in the garden, in the bushes and even the flower beds. However, their liaison is an apparent open secret. Teddy decides to end the relationship resulting in Joanna’s spectacular breakdown as she descends into hiding in the bushes and going native.

Overseeing the preparations for the day is the over-enthusiastic organiser Barry (Gareth Kennerley) and his long-suffering wife Lindy (Sally Tatum) who set up the various stalls and constantly bicker. They hope that the rain won’t spoil the day as it has for the past 11 years.

We also meet Joanna’s husband and local doctor Giles, superbly played by Robert Mountford, who is totally unaware of his wife’s infidelity and has a penchant for morris dancing. When the truth is revealed, he hilariously loses all control whilst blaming himself for the whole situation.

As with most fêtes, we have children dancing round the maypole and a fancy dress competition with unexpected results.

The arrival of the sensuous French film actress Lucille, the delightful Nanou Harry, who is to open the fête causes further chaos.

Meanwhile in the theatre, House explores the tensions between Teddy and his stylish wife Trish, an impressive performance by Teresa Banham, who totally ignores his presence even although he is in the room creating great comic delight.

Teddy is getting sloshed, accidently sits on a plate of vol-au-vents and ingratiates himself to Lucille even although he doesn’t understand a word she says as he can’t speak French.

Teddy is expecting a visit from his college chum and political dealer Gavin (Darrell Brockis) who is a hideous manipulating character about to offer him the opportunity to stand as a member of parliament as Teddy’s father and grandfather did before him.

All appears to hang on the success of lunch but harassed housekeeper Izzy (Melody Brown) is not having a good day as everybody is arriving late and the beef is constantly taken in and out of the oven and is spoilt.

Her daughter Pearl (Louise Coulthard) is the feckless maid who breaks china and causes havoc in the house. You wonder how effective she will be as the fortune-teller in the garden.

But alcoholic Lucille becomes totally intoxicated as Teddy introduces her to the delights of single malt whisky and her agent Fran (Jessica Woo) is not happy at being mistaken for the chauffeur and not invited to lunch.

The blossoming romance between Giles’s son, the cub reporter Jake (Imran Momen), and Trish’s political aware sixth form daughter Sally (Grace Cheatle) is filled with teenage awkwardness and Gavin’s attempted seduction of her is sinisterly embarrassing.

Neil Irish’s design beautifully creates the charm of the country house in the theatre and makes full use of the garden with a fountain centre stage.

Elizabeth Freestone’s assured direction brings the very best from her cast and the pace is breathtaking with such timely choreography.

This is the perfect summer entertainment filled with humour and Ayckbourn’s wonderful exploration of life.

Reviewer: Robin Strapp

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