It’s good of Shropshire Drama Company to mention on their publicity that this is an amateur production of ‘Bedroom Farce’ … because you’d never guess. Instead, this is one of the most skilful and professional presentations of an Ayckbourn play I have seen outside Scarborough….and an excellent ensemble of actors were rewarded by gales of laughter on their first night at Theatre Severn.
One of the keys to their success is undoubtedly the decision to draft in the legendary Pentabus pioneer Jonathan Cross to direct. But he can only work with what is before him … and the second key is the casting. There is a persistent myth that Ayckbourn is easy…which is why so many village hall shows come a cropper. You can’t act an Ayckbourn character; you have to inhabit them. The audience must never be in the least bit aware of the boundary between the player and the part. And all eight members of Cross’s cast (most of whom I’d not seen before) clearly understood that.
‘Bedroom Farce’ is a bit of a misnomer really…in the true Ben Travers definition of the word. Whilst characters do lose their trousers and hop into bed together, it’s because they are sad rather than sexy. Ayckbourn’s perennial problem was that he had to get each new play’s title to the printers before he’d written it. And this one turned out thoughtful rather than farcical.
It’s also a shining example of his stage craft…with the acting area dominated by three double beds in different houses, seen side by side on the same night. And just to make life more interesting, he set himself the challenge of plotting the comings and goings of four couples (at various levels of instability) in three boudoirs.
Ayckbourn has admitted that all the men in this play are facets of himself. He even had Nick’s bad back when writing it. James Mitchell (as Nick) is a fine comedy actor with a touch of Cleese about him. His challenge is to spend almost the entire play in bed, groaning. There’s even one brief solo scene in which the only line is “Argh!” Derek Willis is a brave, unselfconscious, roly poly Malcolm, whose struggles with a flat pack table mirror his struggles in life generally – and bed in particular. Matthew Deakin is hopeless fay and blow- waved as the ineffectual Trevor, and veteran actor Clive Burns brings a sense of faded military bearing to the no-nonsense Ernest. They are four very fine and immediately recognisable characterisations, excellently executed.
But Ayckbourn’s greatest forte is his women. Angela Beechey and Lucy Hagen play patient, sympathetic wives, caught up in the maelstrom of men behaving irrationally. Jodie Welch has the toughest part. Susannah is constantly on the verge of psychological disaster and Jodie treads that line to perfection; whilst the ever-wonderful Helen Bryant (Delia) is an effortless comedy actor who is blessed with Les Dawson’s immaculate timing….and expressions to match.
It’s a very fine show. For several years Ayckbourn claimed he hated this play. But were he to slip into the back of the stalls at Theatre Severn this week, he’d be impressed by the slickness of it all, delighted that all his punchlines are nailed, and generally very well pleased with his comic creation.