Theatre Critic and Journalist

Review: Joking Apart, Union Theatre

Review: Joking Apart, Union Theatre

Published in Time Out, 16.12.2011

Richard and Anthea are one of Alan Ayckbourn’s quintessential perfect couples; so bloody lovable that they would loathsome, if only they weren’t so damned nice.

Over 14 years of garden parties, their regular charity-case guests unravel into middle age. There’s Sven, the business partner who can’t compete; ‘Uncle’ Brian and next-door neighbour Hugh, an awkward vicar with an awful wife.

Ben de Wynter’s production is astute in its character analysis, but let down by the actual playing. His cast have caught the very particular social types, but none are realised with the necessary detail.

The clue to Ayckbourn’s twenty-first play is in its title. Under the seemingly benign banter run deep currents of envy and sadness, which occasionally erupt in all seriousness.

Ayckbourn isn’t as easy as you’d think and De Wynter completely misses the social awkwardness – faux pas and nervous laughter – that create vital surface tension. Without it, this intricate play simply deflates.

Photograph: Mark Best

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