In Noises Off, Michael Frayn famously revolves the action so you are alternately privy to the backstage and the onstage antics at the performance of some grisly farce. House and Garden contrive an ingenious variation on this conceit. Here, Ayckbourn has the same cast racing between two linked plays, performed simultaneously in the adjacent auditoria of the Stephen Joseph Theatre, offering divergent perspectives on events at the big house on the day of a garden fete worse than death. Not so much Noises Off as Noises In Between.
House is much the funnier piece, its focus trained on the excellent Robert Blythe's Teddy, a portly, wrecked, philandering cherub, whose failure to follow his forebears into politics may be providentially reversed by a guest - an old school friend and Downing Street habitue - coming, supposedly with a plea from the PM, to the pre-fete lunch.
Teddy's ambitions are not best served by an unhappy wife (Eileen Battye) who brightly pretends he is not there, nor by the cast-off mistress (Janie Dee) whose collapsing marriage to a Morris-dancing enthusiast comes under scrutiny in Garden. The best comic stroke is the characterisation of Teddy's friend, a sleek operator, played with a wonderfully undermining smoothness by Terence Booth, who goes through life falsely raising people's hopes for the casual delight of watching them dashed.
Your mind runs on such questions as how on earth they manage to synchronise the two performances (watch out for bits of business that can, by signal, be shortened or prolonged to keep the shows in tandem). You also try to imagine what it must be like playing at the same event to two potentially different audiences.
Drama normally relies on the interplay between seen and suggestively unseen action (inconceivable that Pinter would show you what was really happening at the other end of the eponymous Dumb Waiter and House and Garden have the weaknesses, as well as the strengths, of violating this principle. They demonstrate, for example, that "offstage" is a less funny proposition in an in-the-round space than in an endstopped one. Mostly, though, you sit back and appreciate the nippiness of the attractive cast and the minor miracle of the show's co-ordination.
To 10 July, 01723 370541Reuse content