When Alan Ayckbourn’s 45th play transferred to the West End in 1993, the critics were a little underwhelmed and disappointed. It had done well in Scarborough but for some reason it failed to excite the passions of the metropolitan taste police.
The author was among those watching it last night. He was back on appreciative home ground at the Stephen Joseph Theatre for the first of a three-play summer season of his work in the North Yorkshire resort where he was artistic director for 37 years until stepping down in 2007.
Time of My Life is a time-shifting farce inspired by the work of JB Priestley. All the action unfolds in a local family-run Mediterranean restaurant in a northern town. The waiters (played to their comic maximum by Ben Porter) sport dodgy wigs and even dodgier accents as they ladle out the lurid desserts and the grappa.
Way back in John Major’s Britain, some detected a certain degree of datedness to proceedings. Yet time has been kind to the play. Some of the fashions are back whilst a taste for inter-familial secrets and lies has never really gone out of fashion.
Powerful, call-a-spade-a-spade matriarch, Laura, played by the excellent Sarah Parks, presides over her 54th birthday meal which, transformed by later events, becomes a poignant last supper for the clan.
Her family is gathered around her – weak but amiable leisure centre building tycoon husband Gerry (John Branwell), their two sons Glyn and Adam and their partners. Whilst Glyn, who is on the board of the family firm, would do anything for his mother’s love, she can scarcely stand to be in the same room as him – nor his nibbling, wallflower wife Stephanie.
Adam, meanwhile, is her little darling. She mistakes his lack of purpose for sensitivity and he too desperately seeks her approval, despite himself.
This search for validation extends to his mismatched coupling with local hairdresser Maureen who skewers the middle class proceedings with her earthy language and a voluminous chunder.
From this unlikely high point in the family’s fortunes, things begin to unravel and the family split off into their respective pairs to traverse forwards and back in time, returning them, with a real sense of pathos, to the moment before they first sat down.
Which couple’s plight you most respond to will depend upon which age and stage you are at yourself – hopeful young lover; jaded parent or philosophical empty-nester. But there can be few who don’t see something of themselves in this.
To 4 October