Brighton Fringe 2019
Sweetwerks 1 is a small space perfectly made for chamber theatre. The Barnes Players are directed by Terry Oakes with Francesca Stone who also designs the sets, with Carmel Blackie’s sound (pop, like Abba) and Jamie Rycroft’s lighting, this ensemble do as much as you could hope for in tight circumstances. On May 6th only. Tours to Edinburgh Fringe 2019
Having delivered No Knowing, Alan Ayckbourn’s December 2016 one-act comedy, Barnes Players immediately afterwards present a one-off performance followed by an Ayckbourn double bill. Double Bill Mother Figure, and A Cut in the Rates. It’s another one-off. This time the first of the 1976 Confusions plays – Mother Figure – preludes a curious piece devised to show a 1983 BBC documentary how a play is put together. It premiered as a stage play in November 1983. So A Cut in the Rates is a real rarity. Both last twenty minutes. One is a comically chilling piece, the other a faux-chiller that saws through to the comic.
There’s two small sets designed by Francesca Stone – shifted with some dexterity and difficulty in between the two works. The first’s an over-populated smalls hanger in a kitchen corner; the next more ingenious, an exterior and then a reveal with an ingenious piece of lady-sawn-in-half box with attendant instruments. Very effective. Directed by Terry Oakes with Stone, with Carmel Blackie’s sound (pop, like Abba, neatly pertinent hits to each scene) and Jamie Rycroft’s lighting, this ensemble do as much as you could hope for in tight circumstances.
Mother Figure taken out of context here is one of the lesser-known playlets in Confusions. Amanda Larsson a young Swedish actor takes Lucy Compton a woman in mind of rebellion before Ayckbourn essayed a whole play on coping fantasies and breakdown. Here Lucy copes pretty well: she infantilises. Her husband’s always away but when she fails to answer his calls he calls an anxious neighbour Bryony Wilman’s Rosemary Oates who bustles round and is forced to drink orange juice.
It’s worse for her husband Terry (Roger Hayward-Smith) who oddly guzzles it when nothing else is available so is punished by being forced to apologize and drink milk. This echoes the 1969 How The Other Half Loves where the wife also gets an apology. Here Lucy declares she rarely listens to and never answers rings or doorbells. And to Terry’s or Rosemary’s face: ‘scowl like that and the wind’ll change and you’ll stay like that forever.’ She’s furious at her husband, has not dressed for three weeks, lives permanently in a dressing gown, and dispatches her neighbours with a curiously more alert sense of themselves. A remarkable, rather strange piece. But the psychology’s plausible and a stepping-stone to the real rocks Ayckbourn explores later.
It’s a fun piece, the cast cope perfectly adequately with the comedy. Larsson brings a downbeat weariness and neatly peremptory mumsy approach, though her accent suggests greater alienation. Oh and there’s a Mr Poddle, Curly Bear. You’ll need to know where he comes in. Wilman is quiet under understated, Hayward-Smith a little the other way and might tone down just a little in this space.
A Cut in the Rates
Now there’s a pun. A Cut in the Rates concerns heart-sore jilted Monica Pickhart (Alexa Bushell) a council official chasing up non-payment of rates. Nicola Doble’s The Woman Upstairs says no-one’s here, but Patrick van der Bergh’s showman conjurer T L Ratchet certainly is. He takes her for a guided tour, and there’s the engine of tragedy, where he accidentally cut his wife in half. The wife herself appears (it’s Doble, as we might guess) persuading luckless Monica to try out the box, to release her perturbed spirit, and then the mad Ratchet appears.
To say more might spoil it, if you see it in Edinburgh. This is a cut above the rating of its companion, for the slightly greater energy, dispatch and fine set well-deployed. On this evidence and for their one-act No Knowing, it’s clear that comedy sketched at this levels finds the players’ comfort zone but a few actors show the potential to go a more considerable distance. If you enjoy Ayckbourn, catch this in Edinburgh. You won’t see two of these three pieces – including No Knowing – performed elsewhere.