A/V Room









A cardboard travesty of period playwriting

Review by David Munro

WHEN the curtain rises on a set with a bifurcated staircase at the rear and two rooms delineated by vestigial walls you know you are in for another country house comedy.

As the author is Alan Ayckbourn, you realise that the next hour or so will be unpredictable and so it proved to be.

The occupants of this stereotypical set are three dysfunctional families - Belinda and Neville, Pattie and Eddie, Phyllis and Bernard - all of whom are inter-related (although I was never quite able to fathom the relationships) and who have gathered with their children (mercifully offstage) to spend Christmas together.

In addition, Belinda’s sister, Rachel, a frustrated spinster, has invited a friend, Clive, to join the party whom Harvey, another denizen of the household, who is also related to one of the others, dislikes on sight.

Harvey is a psychotic with a passion for firearms and violence, who, in the final scene, shoots Clive.

Before that, the others have gone through a series of disjointed scenes, some funny, some not, where their relationships are examined and for me found wanting.

Ayckbourn, who is also the director, keeps the action going with cross-cutting dialogue and staging of scenes, which is all very clever and, in a way effective, but does not disguise the hollowness of this plotless play.

Liza Goddard plays Belinda, the hostess who hates her husband and tries to seduce her sister’s friend, without any real conviction. I had never really realised until last night that attractive as she is, Miss Goddard is a very dull actress and this was, sadly, all to apparent in her portrayal of Belinda.

The other featured player, Mathew Kelly, on the contrary brought a lot of humour and characterisation to his part of Bernard, the bumbling local doctor, and without much help from the script, brought his character to life.

The funniest moment in the play is when he is trying to get a puppet show, dreaded by the rest of the cast, ready for the children in a race against time and hindered by ineffectual helpers.

In a way, this epitomises the play - a lot of puppets manipulated unsuccessfully and without a vestige of reality by Alan Ayckbourn.

The rest of the cast do what they can with their parts and bring out what fun and humour there is in the script, but they are all stereotypes that one has seen in countless plays of this nature - the drunken wife, the husband who treats his wife as a possession which she resents, the spinster sister trying to grasp her last hope of happiness, and so on and so forth. All of which makes a series of vignettes but not a coherent whole.

Alison Pargeter, as a heavily pregnant and dim-witted wife, is very funny, but she is a character out of a soap opera.

Terence Booth, faced with the part of the demented villain of the piece, tries to compensate for its inadequacies by overplaying and achieves a burlesque performance of a demon king in pyjamas.

Alexandra Mathie wrings what pathos she can from the wronged sister, but her emotions, like that of the rest of the cast, are very penny plain and tuppence coloured.

Perhaps Mr Ayckbourn felt that as the play is set in the Christmas period, he should provide his audience with a sophisticated version of a Pollocks Theatre entertainment, because that is what this play resembles; a cardboard travesty of period playwriting - nothing more.

Season’s Greetings - written and directed by Alan Ayckbourn.
Set Designer, Roger Glossop; Costume Designer, Christine Wall; Lighting, Mick Hughes; Sound, Dan Last; Music, Dennis King.
CAST: Liza Goddard; Matthew Kelly; Terence Booth; Alison Pargeter; Bill Champion; Jason Vaughan; Alexandra Mathie; Eliza Hunt; Mathew Cottle.
Presented by Guildford’s Yvonne Arnaud Theatre in association with The Stephen Joseph Theatre.
Richmond Theatre, The Green, Richmond, Surrey, TW9 IQJ.
Mon, Oct 25 – Sat, Oct 30, 2004
Evenings 7.45pm / Matinees Wed. & Sat. 2.30pm.
Box Office: 020 8940 0088

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