Review: Bedroom Farce, New Wolsey Theatre

Bedroom Farce, by Alan Ayckbourn, New Wolsey Theatre until May 12

You would think that the clue is in the title – audiences arriving at the New Wolsey could be forgiven for thinking that they are in for an evening of frothy, albeit somewhat insubstantial comedy.

This is not so. The clue for the tone of the evening’s entertainment is actually in the name of the author – Alan Ayckbourn.

He has been declared Britain’s favourite living playwright thanks to his ability to dissect the complex relationships which are created and destroyed behind the closed curtains of suburbia.

If you are expecting Bedroom Farce to be about a quartet of couples, in varying states of undress, dashing frantically through doors at ever increasing speeds, think again.

Although Bedroom Farce has a classic farce-like set up, it confounds expectations.

It is a darker, more thoughtful piece than its title suggests – but with observational comedy rather than sight-gags to provide the laughter.

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It follows the fortunes of four couples during the course of one night. The central figures are Susannah (Sophie Roberts) and Trevor (Tom Turner) who are having relationship problems. Their difficulties are observed and commented upon by Trevor’s parents Ernest (Christopher Ettridge) and Delia (Susan Bovell), their newly-wed friends Kate (Leanne Jones) and Malcolm (Richard Elis) as well as Trevor’s ex-girlfriend Jan (Chloe Howman) and her husband Nick (Barnaby Power).

Although there is an awful lot to enjoy in this fast-paced classic it is safe to say that Bedroom Farce may be starting to show its age.

There is a huge amount of entertainment to be had from the evening, lots of great laughs arising out of some well observed set pieces but at the end of the evening I had the feeling that I didn’t quite believe in what I had just seen.

Peter Rowe directs with great style and with a lot of visual invention but during the evening the three younger couples become a little too extreme. They cease to be real people and start to become comic caricatures.

This robs the play of the very thing which Ayckbourn set out to achieve – a sense of comic truth. I suspect the passage of time has revealed cracks in the characterisation which weren’t immediately apparent when the show was first written in 1975.

Nevertheless Bedroom Farce remains huge fun. The acting is top notch. Christopher Ettridge and Susan Bovell play especially well off one another and Hairspray actress Leanne Jones pulls off that most difficult of tasks – making “Mrs Normal” into an interesting and believable person.

There are great laughs to be had throughout the evening as the rapturous applause at the end showed.

Andrew Clarke

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