Sunday, April 14, 2013

Joking Apart Review

Joking Apart
Salisbury Playhouse, Salisbury

After a fantastic production of Way Upstream, the Salisbury Playhouse has brought the Nottingham Playhouse Theatre Company's production of Joking Apart to their stage. The premise of the play is a simple, slice-of-life story that follows four sets of neighbouring couples in middle class suburbia over 12 years. Set in the garden of Richard (Robert Curtis) and Anthea (Emily Pithon), the passing of time is acknowledged by references to their unseen children. The play ends with Richard and Anthea allowing their daughter, Debbie (Katie Brayben), to celebrate her 18th birthday with her friends in the garden. This happy ending is deceptive as long before this cracks have appeared beneath this idyllic setting.

Alan Ayckbourn is known for creating stereotypes in his plays, and it is easy to notice most of the characters' flaws. What is clever is that Richard and Anthea are the least stereotypical of all the characters, with their noticeably happy attitude their own flaws, while only gradually became apparent. Moments of revelation and tension break the gradual pace of the play, and as it ends there is a slight taste of sourness in the air. However, Ayckbourn's witty dialogue is sprinkled throughout to create what is, on the whole, a lovely comedy.

Some of the characters and their personalities soon became tiring. Thorston Manderlay plays Sven, who speaks with a rather jarringly knowing and cynical tone of voice, though as he revealed his frustrations I was able to sympathise with him. Sally Scott played nervous Louise, however I felt the character's gradual break down is portrayed heavy-handedly which impacts upon the final scene.

Will Barton was the most sympathetic as Brian, the new vicar. His difficulty in being accepted amongst his neighbours is made worse by his reserved character. Robert Curtis and Emily Pithon made a lovely couple as Richard and Anthea. Even as their motivations are revealed, I would never have guessed what was behind their cheerful guise.

The the sense of anxiety cannot be missed with Edward Harrison playing Hugh, who recognises the facade that Richard and Anthea put on, and from the start shows the bitterness that gradually spreads throughout the play. In each scene he is accompanied by different, but equally eccentric girlfriends, all of whom are played wonderfully by Katie Brayben before she appears as Richard and Anthea's daughter at the end.

Yet again Salisbury Playhouse is adorned with a detailed set produced in conjunction with Nottingham Playhouse. The garden is perfect, with tennis court, a tree with swing, summerhouse and nicely trimmed shrubbery. The passing of time is shown as the characters bring on and off jack-o-lanterns, lights, speakers, seats, a table, and all sorts. During the first scene the production team use some neat effects to give the impression of Guy Fawkes Night (and not just lighting and sound). Between each scene songs from the 70s are played which complements the setting.

This is not a fulfilling play that leaves you with a bright ending. However, together with Ayckbourn's writing and a strong cast it is an engaging, and at times deceptive little play to watch at a low Top Price.

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