Bristol Old Vic
Opened 20 April, 1999

Bristol’s contribution to the Ayckbourn jubilee (Sir Alan’s 60th birthday currently, it must be said, putting the Noël Coward centenary in the shade in terms of major productions) is not, strictly speaking, an Ayckbourn play, but rather an adaptation. Ayckbourn staged his version of Tons Of Money at the National Theatre in 1986, but Will Evans and Valentine’s play was first seen in 1922, a precursor to a decade of Ben Travers’s Aldwych farces.

Aubrey and Louise Allington are desperate to keep their newly acquired inheritance from their creditors. There: that, in a nutshell, is the plot. The mechanics thereof involve two faked deaths by Aubrey and a subsequent resurrection; two separate impersonations of a relative presumed dead who also inconveniently turns up himself; the mutton-dressed coquetry of a not-quite-widow who gets to indulge herself with all three of the aforementioned; a clutch of comic (laconic, lustful, conspiratorial) domestics, a deaf aunt and, of course, a country house drawing-room with three sets of French windows as well as an interior door and a walk-in fireplace.

Matt Berry has fun with the sound design – with shattering glass and creaking bedsprings audible offstage at comically precise moments – and Mick Bearwish gets to include in his great, cluttered set both a piece of topiary to be decapitated by an incompetent gardener and an exploding ceiling through which the hapless Aubrey crashes at the end of the first of the play’s three acts. Director Ian Hastings, too, ladles the gag opportunities on thickly, from the minute scene-stealing of Morag Siller’s jerkily curtseying parlourmaid to the vast chase scene involving virtually the entire cast – no, they do not actually burst into the auditorium… at least, not quite at that point…

Ralph Lynn, who originated the part of Aubrey, specialised in “silly asses” and “blithering idiocy”, and Ian Bartholomew does his best to madcap right into the corners of the role, all verbal tics, exuberant gestures, eagerness for the “hundred and twenty thisand pinds” of the inheritance and hair which rears up in not so much a manic cow’s lick as a vigorous buffalo-worrying. Stirling Gallacher as Louise is the cooler but still more than a little quirky mastermind behind the stream of desperate impostures. Angela Moran as their aunt is given her finest moments of cynicism after the tedious I’m-not-deaf jokes have been allowed to wither away. Hastings’s production tries at least twice as hard as it decently ought, and succeeds almost as much as it would have done had it not been so determined to hit the overdrive switch.

Written for the Financial Times.

Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.

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