Review: Harrogate Theatre’s marvellous Ayckbourn

Alan Ayckbourn 2005: Alan Ayckbourn, Artistic Director of the Stephen Joseph Theatre with Scarborough in the background
Alan Ayckbourn 2005: Alan Ayckbourn, Artistic Director of the Stephen Joseph Theatre with Scarborough in the background

Review by Ken Hulme

Harrogate Theatre in association with Oldham Coliseum presents Bedroom Farce. Harrogate Theatre.

Welcome back to an Alan Ayckbourn play. Harrogate needs a laugh as we hopefully near the end of a long winter and Bedroom Farce, enjoying a two-week season at the Harrogate Theatre, provides just the right amount of jollity to keep us amused.

First performed in 1975, it has lost none of its spontaneity nor its accuracy of observation of the way we run our lives.

The play revolves around three bedrooms and four couples, a party that goes wrong and the sorting out of a whole series of misunderstandings.

Along the way we meet the selfishly unfeeling Malcolm who worries that he is the cause of all disasters and Susannah his equally neurotic wife.

We feel for Nick, bedfast with a bad back, trying to retrieve his book when it falls on the floor, we laugh as Kate and Trevor playfully hide each others clothing under their bedsheets and we sympathise as Ernest desperately tries to get to sleep.

We even receive a lesson in the art of erecting D-I-Y furniture and may indeed find that while the several phone calls taken during the course of the action would today be made on a mobile device, seeing a real telephone attached to a wire might bring back a few memories.

And all this in just one night of decidedly feverish activity.

There’s a touch of sadness in some of the scenes which makes the play more of a tragi-comedy than a farce but Ayckbourn rarely ventures too far away from the realistic approach which is probably why his plays remain so popular.

Comedy, though, while it’s often believed to be a soft option for theatre companies, is just as difficult to perform successfully as any other dramatic genre.

It relies on absolutely accurate timing of entry to the stage, on sensitively picking up cues, on the ability to speedily change both voice and facial expression and hopefully to put across the sort of performance the dramatist intended.

This tightly-written production, presented by Harrogate Theatre in association with Oldham Coliseum, and superbly directed by Robin Herford did all of that, leaving me hugely impressed by both the quality of acting from all the cast and the excellent effects of the creative team in the two-tier set design and intricate lighting procedures.

Bedroom Farce: Evening performances continue until Saturday with a Saturday matinee at 2.30pm.