Ticketmaster Summer in Stages


Torben Betts
The Original Theatre Company and the Theatre Royal Bury St Edmunds
Yvonne Arnaud, Guildford

Emily and Oliver, a middle class, left-wing, idealistic couple from the south of England, have just relocated to a depressed area in the north, really for economic reasons due to the recession and civil servant Oliver having been made redundant, but also Emily wants their two children to be brought up among ‘real’ people.

As a gesture of friendship and to integrate into the community, they have invited their working class neighbours in for drinks, dental receptionist Dawn and her postman husband Alan, and the differences between the two couples in culture and expectations can be very funny, but this turns out to be more social comment than just a social comedy and there are more similarities between them than might have been expected.

Every difference is pointed out—voluptuous Dawn’s figure-hugging dress contrasting sharply with stick-thin Emily’s home-made (but very trendy) loose tunic with leggings. Emily and Oliver don’t believe in marriage but have two children. Dawn was married straight out of school, producing a child almost immediately, and is Emily prepared for beer-bellied ‘out the can man’ Alan bringing his own beer and refusing the offer of a glass? The evening continues with the conversation becoming a little strained and somewhat awkward, although the neighbours show no sign of leaving even after a hint or two.

Things get even more strained when Alan thinks Emily’s painting (likened to Jackson Pollack’s) was done by one of the children but, discovering she is a professional painter, excitedly insists on bringing in his own efforts of his beloved cat Vince for her opinion. Oliver tries to make vaguely encouraging comments but Emily (drat the woman) believes that honesty is the only way to go and in one stroke destroys the man’s self confidence, taking away any hope he had of being good at something.

At the beginning, the characters are so very stereotypical that they don’t seem real at all, but gradually their inner selves are revealed. Alan might not be at all cultured but he has a good heart and means well, Dawn, seemingly slightly moralistic, can give in to temptation, and when Emily literally lets her hair down she’s a very different woman and much more human. It’s amazing what a glass or several of the red liquid can do. As for Oliver—his recent inheritance puts a very different light on his character and his marriage.

Not an easy play as speech is very rapid and often one is speaking on top of another as they argue out their case with anger rising. Emily is particularly irritating with her insistence that her way is the only way and she might be trying to be ‘real’ but pretentiously puts a book by Karl Marx on the coffee table ready to impress visitors, confusing Alan who thinks he’s one of the Marx brothers.

There’s also the little matter of the disappearing cat and Emily’s comment attacking the politicians who send ‘ignorant, misguided soldiers’ to war doesn't go down too well when the neighbours have a son in that situation and are very proud of him.

Very well acted by Alastair Whatley, Emily Bowker, Graeme Brookes and Kerry Bennett. Smartly directed by Christopher Harper. Interesting and amusing but not wildly funny, although many in the audience would disagree with me.

Reviewer: Sheila Connor