Bedroom Farce, Duke of York's Theatre, London
Monday 05 April 2010
As this comedy shows, Alan Ayckbourn realised in 1977 that the legacy of the Seventies was not just sex but solipsism.
Three beds face us, each in the home of a couple beleaguered by Trevor and Susannah, the self-obsessed duo who represent the decade. Every encounter with either of them is a therapy session, with Trev or Sue as the patient, and ends with the other character becoming as nutty as they. Marital harmony, social life, and furniture all take some bad knocks as these two sow destruction through a suburb in the course of a very long night.
Peter Hall's production – he also directed the first one – transfers from the Rose, in Kingston. Jenny Seagrove plays Trevor's mother, David Horovitch is her husband. Sara Crowe's Jan has just the right blend of sex and briskness battling each other until sex, in a weak moment, pulls her into a clinch with Trevor, her former boyfriend. Daniel Betts (Malcolm) and Finty Williams (Kate) are funny and likable as the couple whose housewarming party is left in bleeding pieces by Trevor and Susannah's histrionics. Tony Gardner is also amusing as Jan's bedbound husband, Nick, whose bad back has put him in searing pain he longs to transmit to someone else. His only visitors, though, are Jan, who is not taking any nonsense, and Trevor, who wouldn't notice if Nick and his brass bed fell on him.
Yet even the good performances seem underpowered, the atmosphere tepid. Orlando Seale and Rachel Pickup are a good choice visually for Trevor and Susannah, both very tall with lots of hair and the air of superior but baffled storks.
But neither conveys the characters' deep-dyed self-justification, their visceral impulsiveness. When Susannah, enraged, strangles Trevor, she does so practically in slow motion.
The bigger problem, however, is the play, which, despite the title, is no farce but a mild boulevard comedy, one which, with its not-really-naughty contretemps, recalls those of the Fifties.
In the play's ostensibly most hilarious joke, Trevor's mother passes on to Susannah a wise saying from her own mother: "When sex rears its ugly head, close your eyes before you see the rest of it." But is this ersatz-Noël Coward line believable as marital advice in any decade?
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