Alan Ayckbourn has resisted all pressures to condense his diptych into a single evening. It remains in what these days is a mainstream theatrical limbo, as a kind of staged mini-series. The plot is familiar: two people (each about to throw themselves off the Albert Bridge) decide to swap revenges. Halfway through the first act you're thinking, "This could almost be Strangers On A Train." By the end of Part One, when it's apparent that Karen Knightly's personal reality train has jumped the points, you realise – it is.
Griff Rhys Jones griffs amiably throughout, and Lia Williams's transformation from braying 'rah into mousy but Machiavellian temp secretary is remarkable, but the finest performance is Adam Godley's Oliver Knightly – terminally languid à la young Peter O'Toole without seeming affected. Mind you, it's easy to be languid in an artificial world where casual, inexhaustible wealth still exists; Mr A's interest in characters' relationships is at the expense of a plausible context for them, leaving them in a mist of sitcom givens. The closest we get to comment is a vague implication that big business corrupts and/or corruption tends toward big business.
Theatricality, though, is gleefully forefronted: after spending ten months of the year in a 300-seat theatre in the round, Ayckbourn evidently believes in using the potential of a large venue to the full – scenery is rolled and flown in on a now-unfashionable and endearingly cheeky scale. The Comedies as a whole are better put together and more entertaining than much in the West End; but whether they're worth the time and money of any two other shows is debatable.
Written for City Limits magazine.
Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.
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