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The Comedy of Errors

Bedroom Farce

21 February 15 words: Gareth Morgan
Flirtation, forwardness, flares and flat pack. We went to Lace Market Theatre to check out the talent
Bedroom farce

 

How to fit four couples into three bedrooms does sound like the start of a Bernard Manning joke but Alan Ayckbourn's Bedroom Farce manages it very well, and on the cosy stage at the Lace Market Theatre. 

It's 1975 and newly-married and moved-in Malcolm and Kate are hosting a party - although the action centres around their half-finished bedroom. It is into this room warring couple Trevor and Susannah arrive and promptly implode. The other two bedrooms are Trevor's parents Ernest and Delia, who bicker wonderfully over leaking roofs and whether they'd prefer sardines or pilchards on their toast, and Nick and Jan: Nick is incapacitated with a bad back whilst Jan, Trevor's ex has run out of sympathy and is intent of being at the party too - with or without Nick.  

So far, so farcical, but Ayckbourn, the scribe of Scarborough, is a special writer who understands the medium he's flirting with, as does director Graham Jennings, who offers a disclaimer for those hoping for Run for your Wife. Yes, people end up in bed with the wrong people, thing go missing - except Malcolm's trousers, which he finds straight away! - and there's frantic entering and exiting through the set's doors but it's more. As the play develops it becomes an affecting drama that, whilst going through the motions of farce, is more concerned with the real people underneath it. 

Bedroom Farce

 

It is knowingly theatrical and undercuts the conventions of a farce to a point that its own rule bend into absurdity - such as Malcolm's endless procession of coats, evoking Ionesco's The Chairs - and finally break through into a sort of realism. When a grief-stricken Susannah, already having mentioned she may find other women attractive, clambers onto her mother-in-law's bed any hint of bawdy laughter is gone - we've undergone a transformation as an audience as well as the play. 

That said, there's plenty to laugh at. Ernest and Delia, played with great timing by Roger Newman and Hazel Salisbury, are a delight and their near constant battle of chatter, repetition and ignoring the other is brilliantly written and performed. They're worth the ticket alone. Damian Frendo's Malcolm is also a hoot when off-stage, attempting to assemble a small dressing table to very little success. There is a far more serious side too with the neurotic Susannah repeating her self-help mantras to a point of near breakdown. She repeatedly says that Trevor is violent and indeed he seems to revel in the fact that he may have 'destroyed' his ex Jan and may be doing the same to Susannah. This is no laughing matter and Tilda Stickley’s performance blends a delicate mixture of frailty and funny. Some of the opinions of the text could have stayed in 1975 too - mainly from objectionable oaf Nick, stuck in bed with his bad back, or Delia's advice on how to be a good, or more likely subservient, wife. These haven't aged well but played as a period comedy work effectively enough.  

The production is beautifully designed by Emma Pegg - presenting one of the best I've seen in a non-professional theatre - who brilliantly creates the three rooms with a procesion of geometric green wallpaper to magnolia walls and upholstered blanket boxes and back again. Clever lighting and sound for the opening and closing of 'fourth wall' windows were another fun touch. It's well directed even if some of the acting felt a little slack in places, but in spite of this it was a fun and affecting watch. 

Flirtation, forwardness, flares and flat pack, this seventies comedy has certainly been lapped up by the Lace Market's audience - the whole week's run sold out before opening, with the dress rehearsal selling out too! Bedroom Farce is exactly what it doesn't say on the tin - it's a more a real life drama, eschewing the ready-made rules of farce, and it's this which makes it well worth a watch.

Bedroom Farce played at the Lace Market Theatre on Sat 21 March 2015.

Lace Market Theatre website

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