That’s why you will always find me in the kitchen at parties – because it’s where the interesting stuff happens.
It is certainly the case in Alan Ayckbourn’s revival of this pitch-black comedy.
Set over three Christmas in the homes of three couples, the play, first performed 40 years ago, explores the lives of the social-climbing Hopcrofts, the trendy Jacksons and the snobbish Brewster-Wrights.
There has been no attempt to update the piece in terms of its references – in fact it revels in its retro-chic.
But there is nothing outmoded about its themes: the staleness of marriage, the despair of thwarted ambition, class, cash lost love and loneliness. Heavy, yes, but it is Ayckbourn’s lightness of touch which makes this a tragi-farce rather than an outright tragedy.
Ayckbourn is superbly served by his cast, all veterans from some of his other productions.
Ayesha Antoine manages to steal the second act, particularly dark, without saying a word. Ben Porter’s malevolent Sidney Hopcroft is scary indeed. Violence lies just beneath the surface of this puppet turned puppet master. Laura Doddington as his subservient wife revels in her transformation from Judy to his equal.
Sarah Parks plays Marion Brewster-Wright who is a little too fond of the Christmas spirit – and her performance as a drunk is glorious and never falls into cliché. Bill Champion is heart-breaking as her failure of a husband. Richard Stacey’s downward spiral from care-free lothario to hen-pecked husband is played with subtle sadness.
This is funny, heart-breaking and at times uncomfortable stuff. These are three parties you do want to be at – as long as you can enjoy them from the outside looking in.
It is on at the Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough.
by Sue Wilkinson