A Chorus of Disapproval
by Alan Ayckbourn
The People's Theatre
7th October 2015
Despite not reaching the hilarity of Michael Frayn's 'Noises Off', Ayckbourn's 'Chorus' offers many wry chuckles at the odd world of amateur dramatics, with dodgy technicians messing up a rehearsal and prompter's prejudice coming to the fore.
Discussions in the bar afterwards (another great theatrical tradition) led to the instinctive group agreement that 'Chorus' seemed like half a play. Whether this was due to the inter-cutting style, which threw us back and forth between rehearsals and performance of 'The Beggar's Opera', or because many of the characters were rather underwritten I'm not quite sure.
Frankly, I don't think it's one of Ayckbourn's best - though, thankfully, there's seventy-something to choose from - since it lacks the brilliant piling on of plot points that usually leads to a very comic conclusion of works like 'How The Other Half Loves' or the darker 'Woman In Mind' and, beyond the jibes at theatre's expense, all we're left with is Guy Jones (played with admirable naturalism by Colin Jeffrey) bedding his way up the cast list amidst a rather dull land deal. But he does have to contend with the questionable direction of Dafydd Llewellyn, in a very amusing and well-built performance by Steve Hewitt. "If you must take deep breaths, try to take them off the stage." He is, by default since none of the other characters seem to have one, the heart of the play and his cuckolding provides palpable pathos. And admittedly one very funny punchline.
Plot qualms aside, The People's Theatre really bring the show to life with a myriad of hilarious turns. There's Debbie Bolam and Pete McAndrew (soon to be seen playing Bottom with a touring production of 'Midsummer Night's Dream' by the RSC) as the very-friendly-to-begin-with couple who share a racy private life.
Gordon Mounsey as Jarvis, the amusingly mad old man obsessed with 'gestures' and cassettes that play the sounds of British machinery. People's stalwart Alison Carr wages battle against Rhiannon Wilson in a series of high-octane catfights between Bridget and Linda.
Finally, mention must be made of the sweet, slightly weird older couple of the Light Operatic Society Ted and Enid (played impeccably by Roger Liddle and Karen Elliot) whose austere mousy politeness brings up fond memories of Howard and Hilda from Ever Decreasing Circles.
Director Chris Heckles keeps the pace ticking along at a professional standard and has managed to sneak in an uplifting musical with stunning voices alongside all the farcical rib-tickling. Also, their funny fake programme for the show within the show fully illustrates the care and respect they (if not the author) have paid the characters.
So if you know your theatre or you just fancy a hearty laugh, you'd do yourself a great favour by popping down to the People's Theatre who, once again, are providing quality theatre in the heart of Newcastle. Where they all drink gin and tonics, according to Dafydd...