Review: A Small Family Business by Alan Ayckbourn, National Theatre – Olivier stage

Nigel-Lindsay (Jack) Debra Gillett (Poppy) Stephen Beckett (Cliff) Samuel Taylor (Roy) Niky Wardley (Anita) Gerard Monaco (Rivetti Brother) Amy Marston (Harriet). Photo by Johan Persson

Nigel Lindsay (Jack) Debra Gillett (Poppy) Stephen Beckett (Cliff) Samuel Taylor (Roy) Niky Wardley (Anita) Gerard Monaco (Rivetti Brother) Amy Marston (Harriet). Photo by Johan Persson

A Small Family Business doesn’t feel as one of Alan Ayckbourn’s best plays. It’s not so much it is dated, but a strong plot executed masterfully leaves little space for subtleties in characterisation. While some characters make a strong impression, others lack internal life. As a result, the play comes across as an enjoyable diversion but without the cutting despair we are used to in other Ayckbourn plays. The problem is compounded by the production being staged at the Olivier. The vast space makes the play appear more vague, less intimate than it would have been otherwise.

Having said that, there are many pleasures to be had. The banality of corruption and moral corrosion unfolds with masterful inevitability. (At a time when the papers are – once more – full of the MPs expenses scandal, the argument is hardly dated). Continue reading