Duchess Theatre, London WC2
Opened 7 September, 2002

**** Classically Ayckbournian mix of comedy and shadows

A middle-class social gathering that goes disastrously awry is one of Mr A's favoured territories, but he makes it work beautifully.

Alan Ayckbourn claims that there are no thematic links to these three plays: he just wanted to write a season of work for the same seven actors, to be played on the same set at the Stephen Joseph Theatre in Scarborough (where they premièred last year). Of course, there are strands in common, most noticeably encounters with the law and the awkward ramifications of assuming various kinds of roles.

In fact, RolePlay wasn't planned; it just popped into Mr A's head mid-season. Which is curious, because it's the most prime-Ayckbourn piece of the lot. Justin and Julie-Ann hold a dinner party for their respective parents, at which they intend to announce their engagement, but find the event crashed by a criminal boxing promoter's moll and her minder from the penthouse above.

Bill Champion as Justin is that Ayckbourn staple, the decent but diffident man who discovers himself in extremity; Alison Pargeter completes an astonishing trio of roles as loudmouthed ex-lapdancer Paige; Robert Austin as Julie-Ann's father is a complacent Northern bigot. Ayckbourn's vast experience in this dramatic field does not at all stale the beauty of the play's construction and execution.

Written for divento.com

Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.

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