FringeReview UK 2017
This classically-contained farce naturally features one set which playwright and director Philip Ayckbourn designed with Dudley Ward, and the director took part in lighting and sound too with Paul Carpenter. Wardrobe by Gerry Cortese and Alison Soudain.
You’ll slip neatly on a pun, or a timeslip. Philip Ayckbourn directs his new play Timeshare at the Lewes Little, a work revived for the first time since its premiere last year with the Alexandra Players.
There’s a fizz and pop to this play: Miguel the electrician has electrocuted himself. He’s done more than that though. This classically-contained farce naturally features one set which Ayckbourn designed with Dudley Ward, and the director took part in lighting and sound too with Paul Carpenter. A vivid and naturalist wardrobe – the rags our taste forgot – is realised by Gerry Cortese and Alison Soudain.
It’s a Spartan Timeshare flat in Spain, co-owned by the arriving couple Paul and Eddie, both fifty-three, with three other families. Of these the only evidence is half a dessicated pizza since long-acquainted Marina has failed to cajole her daughter into cleaning the place. A red sofa and two bright red chairs guard one door. A window through which we see traditional crouching farceurs lights out upstage centre. There’s an urn with a secret. A slightly grim demeanour hangs over its anonymity: a triumph of bright drab.
Uptight Paula would like to clean out Eddie’s mind too. His uncovered romp with an escort has compromised their precious MP son’s career. Failing a clean-out, Paula’s opted for clear-out instead. Indeed this talking-out’s over before it’s begun. That is, even with Marina’s cheery arrival, a hint that she always felt Paula was cold, and a commiserating flirt, the hapless, crass Eddie’s more convinced that it’ll be him clearing out. Taking Paula’s father’s offer of a job thirty years ago despite her advice, he’s slunk into disappointing middle age, his embittered wife who obeyed her father and married him, not glamorous David the future tycoon, showing just how he strayed.
Then Eddie and Paula meet themselves setting out: that is their twenty-three-year-old young selves making their first visit to the villa. This startled couple naturally less tolerant of these interlopers than the older selves who recognize them, display all we need to know. Whatever Miguel’s pop has affected, the two couples – and Miguel’s wife the younger Marina – keep bouncing on and off in peel-off versions of disillusion. We first see Paula’s froideur and sexual tepidity – indeed lack of warmth before they encounter the unspeakable truth of not being alone, nor indeed their names unique in the four walls. Younger Eddie despite all his bad jokes and ‘Eddie’s Special Cocktails’ has planned an engagement surprise Marina surprises him with; he explains it with more ease than he ever could to Paula.
The elders though seem there for the duration. One thing’s certain: both couples realize they can’t possibly let anyone else know – including sexy young Marina who now thinks they’re Eddie’s parents. Older Eddie hatches a plan: Marina should seduce his younger self.
Each time of course an event takes place the older couple register it as a memory. Ayckbourn’s adept as suggesting how memory and desire can be altered by circumstance, and indeed time travel. It’s clear to the older Eddie and Paula that they should counsel their young selves to part. But of course put baldly it’d backfire. They must deploy paradoxical intent. One tiny creak in the plot comes when Paula suggests their child won’t be affected. Paula will still be the mother and there’ll be better genes on hand. Perhaps she is that frozen out.
The cross-hatchings, threats accommodations grim recognitions all follow, but to an unexpected epilogue.
Few plays have dealt deftly and comically with time travel since its blueprint is so inherently melancholy: H. G. Wells’ seminal 1895 The Time Traveller is a case in point. This one manages it. I’m most reminded of the elder Ayckbourn’s Connecting Doors with similar timeslips back and forward. Philip Ayckbourn gambols in such a shadow with insouciance and aplomb.
The part of Eddie is potentially a gift, but a straitjacket of blokishness too. Giles Coghlin makes a fine bluff case for his elder self, with a touch of melancholy the younger Daniel Marot hasn’t had to work with. Marot has terrific awkward energy at the right moments, bouncing off the magnificent Isabella McCarthy Sommerville, whose portrayal of the near-frigid but sensually dreaming young Paula is scratched in glass crystal. Hers is a containment of incipient bitterness as shadows of the prison bars come down. She’s just lost her bid at freedom. She feels furious with herself and with Eddie for also falling under her father’s sway and McCarthy Somerville lets you know it, almost appealingly. Marot, all gawk and gambit gone wrong, makes a perfect foil.
Esther Egerton’s Paula seems to have dried inside, a dessicated gourd of glamour, so you wonder if she could ever have abandoned herself. The answer’s surprising and the denouement is too. Is it possible Egerton’s part could dig to a vein of melancholy she isn’t presented with here?
There’s one telling scene, also begging questions of the outside world. When the phone rings older Paula knows it’s her father of thirty years back. She tells him she loves him, but he’s already hung up.
Whilst Kristina Anne Howells’ older Marina has much less to do, but convinces as a still active vamp, younger Marina Megan Cheek scintillates in and out of the scenes, everything flashing warmly, and once manages to start a cat-fight. Cheek avoids the cliché and skirts the stereotype through a mercurial rush at everything. All outside the initial scope of memories, you’d think, meeting the couple as they first plod in. Ayckbourn’s point is that the characters are changing themselves. It’s a heady conceptual cocktail though fundamentally simple.
Ayckbourn should be feeling just a little proud of the professionalism of the cast, crew and his own script. There are still curious lacunae. How can two sets of couples thirty years apart contemplate flying out on simply different flights? What year is it out there? Happily Ayckbourn resolves all such potential hazards before the web of time drops round our collective ears, and in a flash too Douglas Wragg’s Miguel incarnates, and is gone.