I tell you, its bloody hard writing a blog about Wheathampstead’s latest. Trouble is, outline too much and you finishing up thinking it would be simpler to post a copy of the script. I have tried three times so far and it would be a damn sight easier nailing blancmange to the wall. (You can tell I am stymied when I start swearing). So let’s cut to the chase. Ayckbourn. Alan. 1990’s play. So-so. Somewhere between Relatively Speaking (super) and Henceforward (pooper). Restaurant, birthday dinner, dysfunctional family, nutty waiters. Lots. Three acting areas. Central one, all takes place in the present. Side ones, number one son propels his life forward and number two son propels his life backwards. Comic. Sad. Episodic. Got it. If not, buy the script. I’m going back to the blancmange.
Director Julie Field created a nice ambience for this dull, suburban, restaurant somewhere in the unspecified north. Clever use of subdued music suggested a much better party going on elsewhere. Hardly surprising. The one onstage carried enough emotional baggage to sink half a dozen cruise ships. The central area, pay attention, is in the here and now and Laura’s birthday party is winding down. When the kids and their partners have gone she and her businessman husband linger with late night brandies and some dubiously foreign muck served up by one of Jonathan Field’s splendid waiters. Think this one was the boss. In vino veritas and there was a lot of that here. Laura hates number one son (Glyn), wants to smack his wife in the mouth, and adores number two son (Adam). For good measure she hates grandchildren unless they are on TV and confesses to bonking her husband’s dead brother. He wasn’t dead at the time, it was many years before, but you get my drift. Too much exposition was an inherent weakness of this play but it did not detract from Jan Westgarth’s splendid portrayal of the bitter Laura. This was a woman who wanted to kick life in the balls. Her scenes would have had greater punch if husband Gerry (Len Skilton) had been a little less ponderous and deliberate but this actress was always watchable. I reckon I have seen her onstage before. If not, it is my loss.
Interleaved with all this was the forward life of despised number one son Glyn and his neurotic wife Stephanie (sad scenes) and the backwards life of loved and wayward Adam and his weird, hairdresser, girlfriend Maureen (comic scenes). All a bit formulaic with a suggestion that Ayckbourn was writing to order for the sea paddler tourists of Scarborough but rich in dramatic possibilities. Simon Chivers' Glyn, a selfish bastard, played with a straight bat which would have benefited from a little light and shade but his performance was always watchable. As his wife Stephanie, moving from pregnancy to separation and then divorce, Karen Prior struggled. She impressed in a lovely scene when a bemused waiter plied her distraught character with sundry sweet courses but overall her delivery of lines was flat and unimaginative. She could learn from Sara Payne’s comic performance as the second son’s gauche girlfriend. Her Maureen was simply wonderful. Outrageous hair, socially unacceptable accent and costumes, and a bemused innocence which enchanted throughout. Telling us that her bookshelves only contained three books merely confirmed what we already knew. Steve Leadbetter’s unconventional Adam was a good foil without ever matching the freshness that Miss Payne brought to her lines.
But overall it was an interesting evening. The weakness of the play was that in this Essa de Calvi restaurant, narrative and conflict mainly slept in separate beds. The brandy fuelled dad is dead, killed in a car crash after the party, and ma is collecting dogs and other unseemly habits. So we are told. Personally I prefer to wallow in my Ayckbourn characters verbally beating the hell out of each other as I discover the truth of their relationships in realistic strife. Time of My Life has a much more restricting format and needs consummate playing from all on stage. Wheathampstead almost got there with spot on performances from Jan Westgarth and Sara Payne, and Jonathan Field’s dexterous playing of a variety of odd ball waiters. He linked the scenes with skilful aplomb. It just needed a smidgeon of stronger support. Bit like that metaphorical blancmange on my wall.