Brighton Year-Round 2023
Clue’s in the title as one director there put it. It’s fast and farcical. Bedroom Farce isn’t charactered like Absurd Person Singular (1973), prefiguring Ayckbourn’s darker 1980s plays. Nor his breakthrough comedies. Nor the exquisite skewering of The Norman Conquests triptych just preceding this. But it does build on that show’s virtuosity.
Katie Brownings directs elegantly, allowing the farce to breathe before it takes flight in the run proper, where the current two-hours-15 will likely shorten. A winter-warming hit.
Directed by Katie Brownings, Production Assistant Pax Boxall, Production Manager Tamsin Mastoris, Stage Manager Ayshen Irfan, ASM Natalie Sacks Hammond
Lighting Design Strat Mastoris, Lighting Operation Alex Epps & Tamsin Mastoris and Sound Design Ian Black, Sound Design & Operation Ian Black,
Set Design John Everett, Laura Colamonaco, Simon Glazier, Steve Hutton,
Set Building & Set Painting John Everett, Simon Glazier, George Walter, Jean Parker, Laura Colamonaco, Andy Hind, Sam Deards, Katie Brownings, Marian Drew
Hair Styling Richi Blennerhasset, Makeup Marrie Mugridge, Costume Design Katie Brownings, Pax Boxall
Poster & Programme Tamsin Mastoris, Photography Strat Mastoris, Publicity & Marketing Ayshen Irfan & Tamsin Mastoris, Health and Safety Ian Black.
With thanks to Mike Whittaker FOH and Volunteers
Till December 9th
I wonder if Fox’s 1976 one-hit-wonder S-single Bed might not be a good intro to Ayckbourn’s Bedroom Farce, directed at the New Venture till December 9th by Katie Brownings. Except it’s all doubles. Three beds, four couples. And four into three won’t go.
Ian Black’s sound design cheerily blasts just the kind of music played at parties given by DIY OCD-er Malcolm (James Bennison) and ever-bubbly, ever-so-slightly disappointed Kate (Laura Scobie), the heart of this eight-pack show: the warm people-pleaser and peacemaker in a standout performance by Scobie.
Clue’s in the title as one director there put it. It’s fast and farcical. Bedroom Farce isn’t charactered like Absurd Person Singular (1973), prefiguring Ayckbourn’s darker 1980s plays. Nor his breakthrough comedies. Nor the exquisite skewering of The Norman Conquests triptych just preceding this.
But it does build on that show’s virtuosity. We see Ayckbourn begin simultaneous triple-plotting in this period-piece. “You can do without the National. But can the National do without you?” Peter Hall asked Ayckbourn. This show is the result. It’s dated but the emotions, particularly male treatment of women, remain: it feels like the past accusing the present of staying in the past.
Staged Upstairs, designers John Everett, Laura Colamonaco, Simon Glazier produce a set worthy of NVT’s finest. It’s the play’s accustomed front-on triple bed-set, with a plush retired couple’s central: in burgundy and trad fittings with a vanity cabinet. There’s an operating window backstage (each bedroom features a much-used door behind) allowing discussion of damp patches (sponging pilchards too carries a frisson of innuendo, and might have been made more of).
To its right a neat 1970s-style bedroom features recumbent injured Nick (Frank Leon) groaning throughout. To its left there’s a cheerfully messy one with ad-hoc wall-hangings splattered like the tangled bedsheets. Soon it’s a repository of party coats.
Lights smartly up (Strat Mastoris) on that elder couple Ernest (John Tolputt) and Delia (Nikki Dunsford), two consummate performances who between them in Tolputt’s wonderfully fussy organiser of a disappointing restaurant meal reminds regulars of his marvellous Chekhov rendering a year ago; and Dunsford’s suave regality throughout recalls her Elizabeth I in BLT’s Shakespeare in Love in August. Apart from emergency pilchards on toast all’s calm.
They’re set up of course: calm to be invaded by turbulent forces. But then they did parent Trevor (Greg Donaldson), who as Delia recalls used to go out with sensible Jan (Sarah Charsley) who’s now married Nick (the groaning one). But Trevor settled for unstable Susannah (Janice Jones), a farcical version of Ayckbourn’s more tragic characters. And his genius is to allow the bedless ones – Trevor and Susannah – to wreak havoc in every bedroom else. They’re not just dysfunctional party destroyers and disrupters of peace. For various reasons they never go home.
And of course that Jan/Susannah faultline soon erupts. With self-pitying Nick immobilised, Jan’s off for Kate and Malcolm’s party alone. And encounters Trevor separately, as Susannah’s following sulkily by herself.
Back at the sickbed Ayckbourn skewers male selfishness. Leon triumphs in temporarily agonised physical movements, retrieving his book, and so on. This spurs Charsley’s finely-observed matter-of-fact Jan on to both disdain Trevor and yet see what she once saw.
The effect on Katie’s and Malcolm’s party is disastrous as a situation erupts emptying 50 revellers into a cold night, with Scobie and Bennison careering round the wildest double-act of the night. Now Malcolm’s furiously collecting coats.
We’ve seen this couple practice practical jokes on each other with shoes, but what it means for Katie is a desperate sexual frustration. She’s saying explicitly ‘find me’ played as farce, forever literally put-upon: rushing in from the bath, stranded naked as guest-coats pile on her.
Scobie radiates sometimes hapless affection, increasingly frustrated by Malcolm’s OCD displacement: first practical jokes, then anger vented on Trevor and Susannah whom he’d already warned. Finally on his ‘surprise’ gift for Kate, erected (yes, exactly) before her eyes at 3am. Till it isn’t. Whoever designed this prop should win an award as you’ll discover. Bennison’s ratcheting-up from obliviously cheery through rage displacement is a thud of beauty.
Scobie though, registering sympathy and homeopathic despair under fraying smiles is a beaming sun: generous enough to put nothing in the shade as she confesses to not being often bored during sex, thinking of staining floors. “It is about us” she excuses herself.
Donaldson’s would-be-suave seducer Trevor and Jones’ “dim” (Delia) affirmation-mantra Susannah migrate everywhere else, disrupting bedrooms, beds and sleep in a ballet of exits and phone-calls. Donaldson’s character is even blinder than Malcolm’s but not to sexual interest. Donaldson brings out both rapacity and Trevor’s wheedling desire to put things right, a monumentally selfish act partly to head off wronged Susannah.
Jones shuttles from overheard mantras shocked by discovery through hunched wails to virtual make-up sex in someone else’s vacated bed, having selfishly vacated Delia’s at 7am. Jones’ distrait self-absorption is comically painful to watch, her Susannah luxuriating in self-ignorance: it edges on self-harm. But Jones also shows like Donaldson how this couple spend life in ritual love-hate circles that turn whirlpools for anyone near enough to get pulled into their centrifuge.
Fine light-queuing from Tamsin Mastoris and crisp stage management underscores a welcome return to the Upstairs space. Brownings directs elegantly, allowing the farce to breathe before it takes flight in the run proper, where the current two-hours-15 will likely shorten. Like Brownings’ punch served on preview night, it’s a winter-warming hit.