Saturday 29 November 2014

A night of undemanding fun in a twee English bedroom

Published 04/02/2013 | 06:00

Alan Ayckbourn's Bedroom Farce sits on the cusp between farce and social comedy.

Like all of his plays, it depends on that quintessential quality of Englishness: subtle class distinctions which are never acknowledged, but are the silent heralds of social attitudes, ensuring anything from contempt to acceptance.He skewers his countrymen's and women's social attitudes and pretensions with merciless accuracy, rather as

 Bernard Farrell does for Irish attitudes. The difference is that Ayckbourn is accepted as a master in his own country, perhaps a mark of its maturity; Farrell's work makes Irish audiences uncomfortable so they dismiss it as anything from predictable to lightweight, rather than recognisable and lighthearted.

Ayckbourn is difficult for an Irish cast as much as for an Irish audience: both are bewildered by a society where someone sniggers at the unacceptable "pardon?" over the socially secure "what?" Variations of accent can send the signal in an English production, even in a somewhat dated piece like Bedroom Farce. But as an English voice was heard to say on the opening night of Alan Stanford's production at the Gate in Dublin, "God, the accents are weird: they all sound as though they're being strangled, specially the women."

It doesn't help in coming to terms with the inevitable twee-ness of a scenario first written in 1975. A lot of sexual water has flowed under various bridges since then, and the hilarity of people literally falling over each other on beds and cowering under duvets for fear of being seen wrapped only in a towel has lost the power (or should have) to raise scandalised giggles.

Allowing for that, as well as the design problems involved in creating three bedrooms of differing styles on a small stage, Stanford creates an evening of undemanding fun. Ernest and Delia, placidly married while bewildered by a society where jeans are becoming acceptable middle-class dress, worry about the apparently disintegrating marriage of son Trevor and his neurotically insecure wife Susannah. Trevor and Susannah are the bane of their friends' lives as they trail through their acquaintance creating scenes of angst and misery, particularly for the socially insecure Malcolm and Kate, while the very socially secure Nick and Jan mock their way through life and love. And it is all sharp enough to end not quite happily, which is what gives an Ayckbourn play its comedic edge.

There is quite a lot of declamatory over-playing throughout, but Louis Lovett as the temporarily bedridden Nick, Rory Nolan as the sexually insecure Trevor and Kathy Rose-O'Brien as the successfully malicious Jan hit just the right notes. Stephen Brennan as the bewildered Ernest goes considerably (if entertainingly) over the top, but Deirdre Donnelly keeps a firm hand as the motherly Delia. Garrett Lombard and Lorna Quinn as Malcolm and Kate need to come down several octaves, vocally and physically, as does Aoibheann O'Hara as Susannah (her playing is so hyper as to be frequently inaudible.)

According to the programme, the production is set in 1992 (for no obvious reason) but Peter O'Brien's costumes aren't indicative of any particular period, and Eileen Diss's set of the three bedrooms of the couples is visually somewhat unconvincing.

***

Apples starts very slowly for a short play (75 minutes.) As a result you imagine it is going nowhere except to depict the usual 'young person's drama' of an endless recitation of crass sexual encounters, pill-popping clubbing/school discos, and getting hammered for the sake of it ... or so that you won't have to think about the unpleasant member of the opposite sex with whom you are having carnal relations.

But it develops very well, presenting real characters, lost in various ways due to hopelessness and "permissive parenting." Sixteen-year-old schoolgirls Claire and Eve are at opposite ends of the scale: Eve is popular and promiscuous, spending her weekends bombed out of her mind and flopping from bed to bed; Claire gets bombed too, but is far less experienced and "falls pregnant" from an inconclusive encounter with the brutish Gary. Eve, meanwhile, starts feeling drawn to dopey Adam, the only boy in the class still a virgin. He yearns for Eve while perusing girlie magazines and falling foul of his violent father.

It's an adaptation from a first novel by Richard Milward, and one suspects the novel is a good read. The adaptation by John Rettalack, however, is theatrically fairly disastrous, merely putting the characters on stage to tell their own stories: little drama-tisation here. In the Twisted Focus production at the New Theatre in Dublin, director Ronan Wilmot tries not entirely successfully to turn the static nature to advantage, but his cast, despite turning in convincingly moving performances, are too inexperienced to handle themselves in such a stark staging.

They are Anna Clifford, Ruairi Heading, Nicola Lucey, Diane Jennings, Mark Lavery and Matthew Kelly.

Irish Independent

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