A Trip to Scarborough

Alan Ayckbourn
A Stephen Joseph Theatre production
Yvonne Arnaud Theatre, Guildford, and touring

Production photo

The title alone must have been irresistible to a Scarborough based playwright, and Ayckbourn has taken R.B. Sheridan’s play of that name, placed it in the foyer of Scarborough’s Royal Hotel, and set it in three different time zones which intermingle and jostle each other for prominence. Sheridan’s play was adapted from The Relapse by John Vanbrugh, which took its inspiration from Love’s Last Shift by Colley Cibber – variations on a theme, and no one could invent variations better than Ayckbourn with his twisting plots taking place in 1800, 1942 and the present day. The script, written in 1982, has been tweaked yet again to bring it up to date.

Each period has its own intrigue and mystery – a man attempts to usurp his elder brother’s title, there is a mysterious woman who may or may not be the Major’s wife, and a young girl is trying to sell a valuable manuscript (original Sheridan as it happens) which may not belong to her. All come to a more or less satisfactory conclusion, but are almost incidental to the play as the actors rush in and out with multiple changes of costume, character and accent. A nightmarish challenge for the (award winning) stage management team and the performers but, directed by Ayckbourn himself (and who else could cope?), it all runs like well-oiled clockwork.

There are thirty two characters (counting the three musicians led by Denis King) and twelve actors who take on a role (or more) from each period with each of their characters having similar names, the only exceptions being the hotel porters who have the luxury of a single character each – hotel porters are the same species through the ages! Gander, played by Adrian McLoughlin, and young Pestle, played by Dominic Hecht, provide most of the comic dialogue with their cynical comments on the guests, and their suspicions that a murder may have taken place.

The Guildford audience love Ayckbourn and come out in their droves for one of his plays, but even they were confused at the beginning with so many high speed changes of time and character, and the talk in the interval seemed to consist of “what is going on?”. The answer is – don’t try to work out the plots – just enjoy the comedy of the situations.

Excellent performances from all, with Terence Booth in particular seeming to be enjoying himself enormously switching between hamming it up as Lord Foppington’s foppish dandy to a suspiciously oily art dealer on to a bargain, and with a little stint as a wartime spiv. Sarah Moyle stands out as the corporal having a wartime affair with Ben Fox’s Major Loveless, and Robert Austin’s rotund figure and bombastic manner perfectly suit the Wing Commander and the overbearing father of the sweet-voiced Holly (Katie Foster-Barnes).

Just to confuse things even more, the present day hotel guests have a fancy dress party, and the sedate dancing of Regency characters suddenly switches to rock and roll.

The play does leave a slight feeling of bewilderment – not so much what happened, but why? There is no real point to the multiple stories other than the juggling of time and the styles of the different periods, all taking place in the same hotel foyer – an excellently presented set by Michael Holt. An enjoyable evening’s entertainment just the same, with plenty to amuse and intrigue.

Touring to Worthing, Eastbourne, Bath, Cambridge and Oxford.

Reviewer: Sheila Connor

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