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

Review: A Chorus of Disapproval at the Harold Pinter theatre

A Chorus of Disapproval, the whole cast. Photo Catherine Ashmore

The last Ayckbourn I saw was Absent Friends at the Harold Pinter theatre last spring. In that play, a long lost friend, still grieving for the death of his fiancee, shows up in a casual get-together. Over the course of an afternoon he becomes the catalyst of change and the cracks in the lives of three couples are blown wide open. In A Chorus of Disapproval, written by Alan Ayckbourn in 1984, a stranger, still grieving for the death of his wife, becomes part of an amateur operatic group that rehearses The Beggar’s opera. In the course of a few months, he becomes the catalyst of change and the lives of everyone in the group change for ever. When I saw Absent Friends, the increasing desperation as the play progresses made for a profound impression. A Chorus of Disapproval, in this production performed at – can you guess? – the Harold Pinter theatre, doesn’t have the same effect, but there is still plenty to recommend.

First of all, the production is very funny. Most of the credit for the laughs belongs to Rob Brydon playing Daffydd ap Llewellyn, the director of the production the group prepares for.  Unsurprisingly, he has perfect comic timing, moreover he can use it in a way that allows the character to develop. It’s a perfectly judged performance, forceful enough to drive the play, but not so overwhelming that drowns the story and the other characters. Continue reading