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 The Theatreguide.London Review

A Chorus Of Disapproval
Harold Pinter Theatre  2012-2013

This is one of what I think of as Alan Ayckbourn's 'Typhoid Mary' comedies, plays in which one character moves blindly through the lives of others, leaving a trail of emotional wreckage behind, generating Ayckbourn's patented mix of lots of laughter and a bit of honest pathos. 

In A Chorus Of Disapproval, it's a newcomer to a Welsh town who joins the local amateur theatre group just as they're beginning rehearsals for John Gay's Beggar's Opera. 

He's given a tiny role and then, just by amiably being present every time someone quits, and amiably letting a couple of company members think he can help them in a business deal, and amiably letting a couple of their wives seduce him, he winds up playing Macheath and being hated by everyone. 

And it is funny throughout, frequently very funny, and sometimes a bit sad, as when one of the wives faces the fact that her affair is evidence of how unhappy her marriage is, or the director of the am-dram group acknowledges how empty his life is except for this hobby. 

There's a great comic scene of cross talk and misunderstanding in the course of one of the seductions, a very cleverly constructed scene in which a painful conversation in the middle of a technical rehearsal is punctuated by shouted lighting cues, and another in which a serious moment is turned on its head by the discovery of an open microphone. 

Throughout the evening, Gay's songs from The Beggar's Opera are used inventively to link and comment on scenes, in the mode of the movie of Cabaret. 

When I first read that comic Rob Brydon was starring, I assumed he was playing the newcomer, Brydon's talent for self-effacing false innocence seeming ideal for the role. But Brydon is actually playing the blinkered director, so wrapped up in his obsession that he has little awareness of anything that's going on around him, and the qualities the actor brings to the role make it even funnier and sadder.

It is Nigel Harman who plays the new guy in town, with both a strong singing voice and just enough of a hint of slyness that we can't ever be sure just how innocent he is. Daisy Beaumont is droll as the sexier of the willing wives, Ashley Jensen touching as the more fragile one. 

The best of Ayckbourn's plays are so perfectly constructed that all you ask of a director is that he recognise their structure and rhythms and not get in their way, and so the highest praise I can give Trevor Nunn's direction here is that it is so sensitive and subtle that you're not aware of it.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review - A Chorus Of Disapproval - Harold Pinter Theatre 2012

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