Strand Theatre, London WC2
Opened 16/17 October, 1991

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 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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