It’s not often that LibraDoodle veers off into Terra Theatricalis, over-proximity to the flatulence of strangers, the prohibition on smoking and a remarkably short attention span being just three reasons. Another is that anything I might think or write about what I’ve seen has generally been better thought and more beautifully written by others before I’ve even got out of the stalls. It’s hard to follow such pithycisms as Walter Kerr’s ‘Me no Leica’ review of the 1951 Broadway production of “I am a Camera” and unless I’m much mistaken, the Swiss psychiatrist’s view on theatrical light comedy, “Live farce? Die! – Jung” is just too tough to match let alone beat and I do have some pride.
So when on Saturday two friends spoke the dread words “We’ve got you a ticket to join us at the local players production of Ayckbourn after supper,” my mind silently replied with “Oh what fresh hell is this?’” before playing a speed psycho Powerpoint demo featuring images of a fetid village hall scented by decades of Cub Scouts and bingo, creaking scenery and creakier performances and topped it off with a reminder that politesse would prevent early escape. And we’d been having such a lovely time, I thought.
I should not have worried. As it happens the Ewhurst Players (Ewhurst – pretty little village near Cranleigh in Surrey’s Rockbroken heartland) are a highly proficient band of performers. The production was Alan Ayckbourn’s “Improbable Fiction” in which a writers group convenes at the grand house of its chairman to discuss their authorial progress. A Sapphic smallholder confesses that she hasn’t written a word for fear of ruining the perfection of the novel in her head, an artistic children’s writer owns up to having spent six years only doing the drawings, a busybody who claims to be prolific has failed to bring anything with her while the geek who pens multi-layered sci-fi that proves to be overcomplicated, narcissistic escapism has and we wish he hadn’t. Then there is the ageing roué librettist with a weak bladder, no musical partner and only one finished verse leaving only the chairman host, a rather endearing “Tim, nice but dim” type whose artistic endeavours extend only as far as translating instruction manuals for household appliances. Add into this mix Ilsa, the exotic “girl from the village who does,” and we’re set for a nice meander through artistic aspirations that remind us of the old joke: Two writers meet in the pub. One says to the other, “I’m writing a new novel.” The other replies, “Neither am I."
Everything rumbles along nice and sedately until just before the interval when WHAM! - a huge peel of thunder blasts cast and audience alike and BAM! - the lights go out and we’re all thrown into pitch darkness… until the lights fade back up to reveal…
I shan’t spoil it in case you’ve not seen it either but what happens next shows that it really is a play of two halves and that all the carefully crafted intros not only have a purpose but are neatly and are hilariously referred to.
There proved to be some real talent on stage. Jason Butler’s wonderfully portrayed host and fulcrum for the whole production, Arnold Hassock rather than Tim, revealed an Alan Cummings-like style fused with David Tennant authenticity, Roland Butcher’s brilliantly OTT librettist, Brevis Winterton, was deliciously grumpy old mannish, Jane Biggins’ lesbian pseudo-Bronte, Jess Bales, was trouser-wettingly funny while Peter Barnett’s, whiny science fantasist Clem Pepp, was deftly drawn and played a point. Tricia Coopers’ blousy Grace Sims had some lovely Mrs Slocombe undertones, Wendy Davies cunningly underplayed the mouse-like Vivvi Dickens and Gaynor Arnold’s effortlessly sexy Ilsa deployed a fascinating range of accents which veered from Somerset to Scandinavia, often via Solihull and usually in the same sentence but with the red hot pants she was wearing I doubt anyone cared… or even noticed.
It was, I must confess, a bloody good laugh. Good people putting their hearts into their last night and pulling off a play that could easily have bested a less proficient and hard working group. What they in fact managed was to pay the dramatist the biggest compliment; show a proper understanding his text or as I’d put it “Am Dram Thanks Alan” (See para 1)
(Nb: some quotes and words may be freshly coined in this post and are available for rent or hire. Please contact for rates.)