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A CurtainUp Review
House and Garden
---Our Original London Review by Lizzie Loveridge
The English playwright, Alan Ayckbourn has written two interlocking plays, House and Garden to be played by the same cast in two different theatres at the same time. The idea is certainly an interesting one, a kind of follow through on Tom Stoppard's device in Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead showing what two minor characters are doing when they are not on stage in Hamlet. What Ayckbourn does is to present different aspects of the same characters by placing them in two distinct settings, a manor house and the large grounds of the same house. It is a great technical feat to exactly time the speeches and exits and entrances so that the whole operation runs smoothly. I suspect that Ayckbourn found this personally very challenging and intellectually fascinating rather like the setter of The Times cryptic crossword puzzle. It is also to the credit of the cast that they have to cover the distance between the two theatres and arrive at the other stage as unflustered as possible. The curtain calls must have been especially hairy.
This said, one must ask, what does all this do for the audience? Does it justify the expense of seeing two plays as opposed to one, of spending over four hours in the theatres? I think not, as the energy generated by both playwright/director and cast goes unseen but is sucked into the abyss. That is not to say that Ayckbourn has not written two witty plays but only that it lacks the excitement of a theatrical coup.
I saw both plays in one day, Garden at the matinée and House at the evening performance. For my money House, which is about politics and a marriage in dysfunction, is the more interesting of the pair. Garden is, as Shakespeare might have said, about country matters. Men and women "carry on" in extra-marital affairs in their sexual playground, the garden.
In House, the owners of the manor house, Teddy Platt played by the indefatigable David Haig and his wife, Trish Platt (the smooth Jane Asher) are locked in an unhappy marriage. Trish has decided to ignore her husband altogether and much of the humour is derived from her, not only not talking to or hearing anything he says, but apologising for leaving a guest on his own when her husband was with him. A party politican and novelist, Gavin Ryng-Mayne, (Malcolm Sinclair) a man devoid of emotion with the warmth of a snake who has a predilection for little girls has been sent to persuade Teddy to stand for election in his local constituency. Trish and Teddy's seventeen year old daughter, Sally (Charlie Hayes) is showing an interest in politics and is out of her depth with ghastly Gavin.
Garden is filled with frolicking. Teddy dumps his mistress, Joanna Mace (a fraught and manic Sian Thomas), for new flirtation with Lucille Cadeau, (the luscious Zabou Breitman), the recovering alcoholic actress sent to open the Garden Fête, Joanna's doctor husband (a limp Michael Sibbery), tries to understand his mad wife. Pearl Truce, the maid (voluptuous Nina Sosanya) flirts with everyone, including her step father, the gardener, Warn Coucher (horny handed Peter Laird). Colin and Deirdre Mallow (the obsequious Robin Browne and the mouse like Leonie Wilde), are a rather sad shell suited local vicar and wife toiling away setting up the fund raising event.
Ayckbourn's humour is well tried and very popular. Many of his more than fifty plays satirise middle class, Southern England for "middle of the road" audiences. You can expect lines like, "You are welcome to ruin my marriage but if you ruin my luncheon party I'll never speak to you again!" from Trish Platt. It is like the very best of BBC television situation comedy, well written, expertly performed with great timing and lovely sets, but for me lacking in pathos.
By way of a special celebration, each night the audience is invited to join the post performance fête in the foyer where stalls have been set up, manned by the actors and you can try your hand at "Bat the Rat" or "Hoop La", buy a pint of beer or a home made cake, in aid of a children's charity. Great fun!
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