Duchess Theatre, London WC2
Opened 7 September, 2002

**** Ayckbournian homage to North By Northwest

This is very close to the kind of boulevard comedy that Ayckbourn is often mistakenly believed to purvey, until the undercover stuff begins.

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.

Here, young actress and acting janitor Rosie Seymore pretends to be the leaseholder of the flat she is looking after in order to get off with the attractive next-door neighbour; but the leaseholder, like Hitchcock's "George Kaplan", doesn't actually exist, and Rosie finds herself drawn into a clandestine "sting" operation organised by an unnamed bunch of government spooks.

Despite the twists and turns of the secret-agent plot, this is far and away the "fluffiest" of the three plays, and one of the lightest Ayckbourns I know. Nevertheless, it's highly enjoyable, driven by a pair of excellent performances from Alison Pargeter as Rosie (entirely unlike her Kelly in GamePlan) and Robert Austin as a spymaster not unlike the character of Mother in The Avengers.

Written for divento.com

Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.

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