If I Were You
Written and directed by Alan Ayckbourn,
Yvonne Arnaud Theatre, Guildford, and touring
This is, amazingly, Ayckbourns 70th play and, no sooner had he finished it early last year than he suffered a severe stroke which necessitated eight weeks in hospital. It could well have been his last writing. However, you cant keep a good man down and he is now back in action almost fighting fit and, who knows, his next production could be based on hospital life. No experience wasted. .
His plays usually centre on relationships, seemingly ordinary family life, but with a wild card thrown in to stir things up a bit.. Here Act One sets the scene and draws the characters just a normal family living a normal life, and with plenty of comic touches to delight the audience, touches that are instantly recognised as being very true to life.
Liza Goddard has left her glamorous self behind for a while to become Jill, a meek and depressed woman spending most of the day in a dressing gown while coping in a desultory manner with the household chores. She knows that husband Mal is having an affair but cannot bring herself to talk to him about it. She is sympathetic to teenage son Sams desire to take part in a Shakespearean play and worried about the state of daughter Chrissies marriage.
Mal is a rough, tough business man - quite disgusted that a son of his should think of acting instead of kicking a ball about, and he dotes on his daughter while not having the faintest idea that her husband his work colleague and drinking buddy is knocking her about. John Branwell was cast to play Mal, but due to an indisposition which has landed him in the East Surrey Hospital (a hospital drama again) the role of Mal was played by Terence Booth no stranger to Ayckbourns plays, but having very little time to perfect his lines. It is quite convenient that his position of store manager meant it was perfectly logical that he carried a clipboard and could occasionally refer to the script, which didnt detract from his performance one bit.
Roger Glossop has made a nice job of the set, a triangular arrangement of kitchen, bedroom and living room, and this conveniently becomes Mals workplace with kitchen, furniture and bedding departments. No scene changing necessary.
Now for the wild-card and this one is quite bizarre. Mal and Jill wake up one morning having swapped bodies and the male/female traits are particularly emphasised from the very beginning. What to do now? Mal cannot go to work looking like his wife they will have to swap roles too.
Havent wives at home with the children often envied the freedom of the husband leaving all chaos behind and setting off for work? Havent husbands had the impression that their partner had it easy with no pressure at home and all day to complete their chores? Well, heres what just might happen if they managed to swap places, and now the audience is intrigued and entertained by the possibilities, while the two youngsters, Sam and Chrissie, are totally bewildered by their parents behaviour. Two very expert and sympathetic performances here from Dominic Hecht and Saskia Butler.
Ayckbourn directs with a sure and expert touch somehow allowing none of the absurd situation to degenerate into silliness but exploring the differences a change of role can make to a relationship.
A thoroughly enjoyable and entertaining evening.
Touring to Connaught Theatre, Worthing; (5 10 February) Oxford Playhouse; (12 17 February) Malvern Theatres; (26 February 3 March) Theatre Royal Bath; (5 10 March) Cambridge Arts Theatre
This review was first published in Theatreworld Internet Magazine.