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  The Theatreguide.London Review


Bedroom Farce
Duke of York's Theatre Spring 2010

Like many of Alan Ayckbourn's comedies, Bedroom Farce lures you in with an ingenious staging conceit, offers you plenty of laughs at its characters' foibles, and perhaps only afterwards leaves you with a hint of pathos beneath the humour. And, if not quite as glorious as memory makes the original production of 1977, Peter Hall's revival delivers on almost all points.

The stage shows us three bedrooms. On our left, an older couple settles in for the naughty delight of a midnight snack in bed. In the centre, a young couple prepare to throw a party while playing constant practical jokes on each other. And to the right, a man suffers in bed with a bad back while his wife goes off to the party.

Plenty of opportunity for comedy, then, in all three settings, compounded when Ayckbourn throws in the wild card of a fourth couple, the son of the old folks and his ditsy wife.

They're in the middle of a fight, and so self-absorbed that they separately barge in on each of the others in search of sympathy, with no sense of intruding or of the chaos they bring with them as nobody gets much sleep in any of the households. And in the process we get just a glimpse of how even the more stable and happy pairings are held together by fragile compromises.

This time around, a combination of casting and direction makes the play belong almost entirely to the women.

Jenny Seagrove is far too young to play the mother, losing some of the sweet-old-codgers humour that stole the show in past productions. But she has a masterful way with a comic line, knowing exactly how to time every joke, when to underline them archly and when to just let them hang there, and gives what amounts to a tutorial in comic acting.

As the hostess, Finty Williams offers the most layered characterisation, letting us see the happy, normal, very ordinary woman who only occasionally allows herself to wonder if this is all there is to life.

Sara Crowe invests the invalid's wife (and occasional object of the fourth man's misplaced ardour) with the wisdom to see that all men are essentially children and are best treated as such, while Rachel Pickup succeeds in presenting the unhappy intruder as a total airhead and yet still sweetly sympathetic.

Among the men, only Orlando Seale really registers as the guy disrupting everyone else's night while completely lost in the contemplation of his own empty head.

Peter Hall is to be credited with guiding the successful actors to their richly comic characterisations, and must bear some responsibility for the rest of the cast not doing as much with their roles.

His pacing is a bit too measured for what is (as its title reminds us) meant to be farce, and he doesn't make much of the opportunities Ayckbourn offers for slapstick and visual comedy. A seemingly sure-fire gag about a piece of collapsing furniture just sputters, and there should be more fun in the older couple's grumbling at being disturbed and in the various actions and accidents that torment the guy with the bad back.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review - Bedroom Farce - Duke of York's 2010