THEATRE / On Theatre

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Which one is it?

Is it the one set on three consecutive Christmas Eves?

No. I think it's the one with four couples and three bedrooms.

One day, Alan Ayckbourn will probably write a scene about people trying to remember the plots of his plays. It's confusing. No other playwright ends up having his or her plays distinguished in such a manner, but then no other contemporary playwright has written 47 plays, most of which dwell upon mortagages, marriages and the middle classes.

The technical finesse has always been admired. The early plays in particular tended to pivot around a structural and theatrical device. How the Other Half Loves (1969) has two separate sitting-rooms superimposed upon each other, climaxing with the dinner-party scene where a married couple simultaneously has dinner with two different hosts on two different evenings. Back then, however, it was fashionable to sneer at Ayckbourn (right) for poking fun at the bourgeoisie while appearing to endorse its values. But as the plays grew darker, people began to recognise the horror behind the comedy.

Which is where Joking Apart (1978) fits in. Michael Billington summmed it up by describing Ayckbourn as 'Scarborough's Ibsen', but he was also the one who saw Woman in Mind (1985) and proclaimed him our finest feminist dramatist. That observation pleased no-one, least of all Ayckbourn.

'Joking Apart' is at Greenwich Theatre (081-858 7755)

(Photograph omitted)

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