Ticketmaster Summer in Stages

Sun Trap

Ian Skelton
Gala Theatre, Durham
(2010)

Production photo

Ian Skelton's thrid play for the Gala, following Beamish Boy in 2007 and the excellent Get Off at Gateshead in 2008, leaves the North East behind for the sunnier climes of Tenerife, although the characters are North Easterners.

Frequent (and usually failed) entrepreneur Alan Fairley (Mark Stratton), with his much younger girlfriend Stephanie Fry (Cheryl Marie Dixon), have been in Tenerife for six months to organise his latest scheme, luxury timeshare villas beside a golf course. He's brought along golf fanatic Don Greene (David Lonsdale) with his wife Paula (Tracy Gilman) as a salesman. Alan, Don and Paula are old school friends. The Greenes stay in the show house villa and the other two in a local five star hotel.

The set, by Zoe Squire, features the outside of the villa, complete with swimming pool, on one side of the stage with the last hole of the golf course on the other, with a backcloth of the snow-topped volcano, Mount Teide.

In the first act the scene is set, not just the easily explained situation but also some of the relationship undercurrents (but not all: some are reserved for act two), the Greenes' family life (there is a daughter and her boyfriend at home) and there is a suggestion that Stephanie might be having an affair with a local doctor, for she spends a lot of time at his surgery.

But all is not as it seems and in the second act all our expectations are turned on their heads.

In some ways I am reminded of Ayckbourn's Improbable Fiction. The first act is necessarily mainly exposition, preparation for the second, but, unlike in Improbable, what happens then is not the surreal but rather an unravelling of all the plot strands, some of which indeed are totally unexpected.

Although there is humour in the first act - some of the audience found it laugh-out-loud, although for me it was chuckles or smiles - it feels rather too long. It was slowed down to some extent by frequent changes of scene. Most of Skelton's writing has been for the screen where swapping from scene to scene is much more quickly and easily accomplished than on stage.

The characters are well drawn and the company of four capture them well, but even in the more emotional second act the pace is too even and there is no sense of real passion or urgency when things start to fall apart. I got the impression of a play which is still in an early stage of development.

In terms of the performances there were occasional audibility problems. I wondered whether it was just my aging hearing beginning to fail but others did comment on it at the interval. Why this should be I don't really know. This is a very experienced cast and I have not been aware of any acoustic problems in the theatre before. Perhaps it is the low key direction reflected in the performance?

For the Tenerife heat does not transfer itself to the emotions of the characters. Even in moments of great stress they are remarkably retrained. So much has happened by the end of the play, so many dreams have been destroyed, so many desires thwarted, and yet there is no sense of emotional devastation. There is a good play here but it needs more work to build up the heat and to fit better the demands of the theatre rather than the screen.

Reviewer: Peter Lathan