Alan Ayckbourn is one of England’s most prolific and well-loved comedy playwrights. His plays often have eccentric characters thrown together in excruciatingly awkward situations and Bedroom Farce (written in 1975) is a prime example.
Bedroom Farce tells the story of four married couples and is set in the bedroom of three of them. Director Leah Rhodes-Burch has wisely decided to split the stage into three and employ lighting rather than have copious scenery changes. This ensured that the play retains its important pace.
In bedroom one, we have Ernest and Delia, the oldest of the couples, who are celebrating their wedding anniversary. Bedroom two is occupied by Malcolm and Kate who are hosting a house warming party. In bedroom three are Nick and Jan. They have been invited to the housewarming party but Nick is confined to bed with a bad back so Jan is going on her own. The fourth couple are Trevor – the son of Ernest and Delia and Jan’s ex-partner and his wife, the very odd Susannah. Ayckbourn once commented that Bedroom Farce would ‘have everything about bedrooms but copulation, something which I believe is hardly practised in the British bedroom anyway.’
Playing Ernest and Delia, are John Castell and Sue McCormick. They did well to convey a married couple who know each other well and have a cosy relationship based on routine and certainly not spontaneity. Eating pilchards together is the most strenuous activity going on in their bedroom. Their concerns were mundane – the roof has a leak, they don’t get on with Susannah and preferred Jan, how much should they tip at the restaurant. Their acting was very true to life and nicely understated. There’s always a temptation to overact with Ayckbourn and this never happened. I particularly enjoyed Sue McCormick’s special telephone voice which was very amusing.
Malcolm and Kate, played by Jon Allen and Lesley Dallow are a complete contrast to the older couple. They are a practical joke playing happily married young couple. The actors were convincing in their portrayals, clearly demonstrating the fact that Malcolm is more assertive than Kate who has the tendency to be too nice. The scene where Malcolm was building flat-pack furniture at 3am in protest at Kate’s tentative suggestion he was sometimes boring in bed was beautifully done.
Nick and Jan are played by Mel McCart and Angela Blackwell. Nick whinges endlessly about his back and practical Jan is running out of sympathy. Both actors were spot on in their portrayals. Angela Blackwell’s coming timing was fantastic and her lines were always delivered excellently. Mel McCart was hilarious as Nick and the odd occasion where his bedroom was briefly lit just for him to utter a self-pitying groan had the audience in stitches. He was also the only actor who was on stage for the entire production – not as easy as it sounds.
The flies in the otherwise reasonably smooth ointment come in the form of Trevor and Susannah, played by Joe Otten and Jan Ibberson. They both succeeded in making their characters the hardest to empathise with as they selfishly put their needs first without a thought for the impact on the other couples.
Having recently reviewed a professional Ayckbourn play at the Lyceum, I have to say that every single one of these eight actors compares well to that professional cast. I have seen several professional productions of Ayckbourn plays in Scarborough and this production is as good as any of them.
Although the play has ‘farce’ in the title it isn’t really a farce, Ayckbourn himself describes it as a comedy and this is exactly what it is. And a very funny one too. The audience was in peals of laughter at the witty lines, superbly delivered by this excellent ensemble cast.
Bedroom Farce continues at the Library Theatre on 21 and 22 November at 7.15pm with a matinee at 2.30pm on Saturday 23 November. Tickets are available to purchase on the door for all performances.