Theatre / It Could Be Any One of Us Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough

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The Independent Culture
For the second time since the Stephen Joseph Theatre moved, earlier this year, to the splendid Odeon conversion near Scarborough Station, Alan Ayckbourn has chosen to represent himself in these premises not with a new play, but with a revision of one of his rare flops. As an artistic policy, this is not exactly pulse-quickening, particularly as the works in question rate pretty low in the urgency stakes. First there was the amiable, undemanding Lloyd-Webber collaboration By Jeeves!, now there's the amiable, undemanding It Could Be Any One of Us, a reworking of a murder thriller spoof that surfaced briefly in 1983. Well, all I can say, after fidgeting through the undemanding amiability of this improved version, is that I'm profoundly grateful to have missed this piece in its original state. The play's title, while at one level referring to the whodunit side of the plot, also seems to be gesturing to a deeper type of recognition. In my view, neither aspect of the piece properly comes off because of the spuriousness of the set-up Ayckbourn has had to concoct to sustain them.

The action takes place in the country house of the once prosperous Chalke family; the ageing siblings form a colony of failed artists. There's twitchy, staring-eyed Brinton (Richard Derrington), the painter who can't paint; gracious Jocelyn (Juliet Mills), the writer who can't write; and Mortimer (Malcolm Rennie), an overgrown baby inflated with self-delusion who, back in 1966, won a Young Composer of the Year award and hasn't had a commission since.

The estate has been left to him and, to revenge himself on the household for its deafness to his musical genius, he decides to name as sole heir a girl he taught for six months over 20 years ago. Very well played by Janet Dibley, this down-to-earth woman is invited to visit her future inheritance. Before she has entered the house, the jokey-mysterious attempts on her life begin. Cue thunder and lightning.

The piece depends upon Jocelyn having a live-in lover who can have goaded Mortimer to distraction with his philistinism and who can function as the comically hapless wannabe detective when the murder happens. In every other respect than as a plot convenience, her relationship with Jon Strickland's lower-middle class ex-claims assessor with high-tech ambitions rings horribly false. And Jocelyn herself is a tissue of over-obliging inconsistencies. On the one hand, she has shacked up with an art-hater; on the other, she has driven her daughter (Tabitha Wady) to sullen, eating-disorder depression by sending her off to every known form of art class rather than pay proper attention to her. I can't say I believed a word of it. Why the author wanted to revise such weak stuff is the abiding mystery.

n To 14 Sept (01723 370541)

PAUL TAYLOR

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