gate theatre, dublin
It would be an apt cliché to cite Tolstoy's line about families – that each is unhappy in its own way – in reference to Alan Ayckbourn's 1975 comedy. Apt, because the four couples whose lives intersect over the course of one very long evening are, indeed, each subject to their own unique flavour of marital misery. And apt because the show itself is a two-hour-long cliché.
Ayckbourn may be a giant of contemporary British theatre, with a knighthood and nearly 100 plays under his belt. That doesn't mean his plays all age gracefully, and this production is particularly dated.
The main ingredients of a farce are all here: tightly timed entrances and exits, mistaken identities, contrived situations, slamming doors, and physical gags repeated ad nauseum and director Alan Stanford executes the formula exactly as prescribed.
By naming the play for what it is, Ayckbourn highlights his intention to subvert the genre. More is going on than the usual 'wink-wink nudge-nudge'. Deeper down, this is about the emotional challenges that people face in different relationships.
With all the running around in towels and pyjamas, and sneaky kisses with the wrong people, Ayckbourn also intended for at least a frisson of sexual tension. Unfortunately, most of Stanford's cast fails to create any sparks. By far the sexiest and most charismatic couple is Ernest and Delia (Stephen Brennan and Deirdre Donnelly), two pensioners who've settled happily into their golden years, worrying about their leaky roof and indulging in forbidden pleasures like sardines on toast in bed.
Their son Trevor (Rory Nolan) is the one problem that everyone has in common. Trevor and Susannah (Aoibheann O'Hara) are a pair of misfits (pictured left) – each played here with psychological problems severe enough that we probably shouldn't be laughing.
Their violent fight at a party hosted by boho friends Kate (Lorna Quinn) and Malcolm (Garrett Lombard) kicks off a cascading string of troublesome encounters, drawing in Trevor's ex, Jan (Kathy Rose O'Brien) and her husband Nick (Louis Lovett).
Farce was never meant to be subtle. But that doesn't mean the cast needs to employ such unnaturally exaggerated British accents and strained facial expressions.
As Trevor and Susannah misbehave like spoiled children, the other marriages show their cracks and strengths. But apart from Brennan and Donnelly, none display any convincing rapport – or conflict – and it's hard to care about characters who don't have much to lose.