Photos: Robert Day
It is the 35th anniversary of Alan Ayckbourn’s play Joking Apart, and it remains as pertinent and relatable today as it was in its 1978 debut. Beginning on bonfire night, 1970, the play opens on a garden, complete with tennis court. Richard (played by Robert Curtis) and Anthea (played by Emily Pithon) are getting ready to set off fireworks with their children. They’ve invited their new neighbours, the vicar Hugh (played by Edward Harrison) and his tightly strung wife, Louise (played by Sally Scott), who is unfortunately afraid of loud noises. Joining them are Sven (played by Thorston Manderlay) and his wife Olive (played by Natasha Byrne) as well as Brian (played by Will Barton) and his many girlfriends (played by Katie Brayben).
The play spans twelve years, and we get snippets every four years of how these couples are getting on in life. Richard and Anthea are the golden couple, the happy, effortlessly successful couple for whom everything seems to go right. Those surrounding them become increasingly jealous, envious and ground down by their friends’ continued success. As Richard and Anthea rise, their friends sink into a mire of self-loathing. All this, of course, happens under the guise of continued friendship, and the friends only complain about Richard and Anthea when they’re not there.
There’s no question there’s a dark undercurrent to this play, analysing as it does the nature of people to be angry with those who are more fortunate. Curtis and Pithon do a remarkable job as the lead couple, giving the audience no reason to believe they are anything other than genuine. And watching how their relationship affects those around them is remarkable, and the rest of the cast do a fantastic job. Manderlay does an excellent job of the Finnish business partner, his accent never over the top. Byrne is convincing as the ever jealous friend who resents everything she isn’t. Harrison and Scott are morbidly funny in their role as a couple who can’t stand one another but are too polite to really say so. The audience is pulled in by Barton’s role as lovelorn fool and Brayben does a fine job portraying the many women in Brian’s life, as well as of the grown up daughter.
All the actors give a wonderful performance of this dark, paradoxically funny yet sad play about the nature of human beings in relation to other people’s success. Most definitely one to see.