Thank you for inviting us to see this
production of Sir Alan Ayckbourn’s Time of My Life. Although
I’ve seen and performed in a few of his eighty-nine plays, this
was a new one to me. There were many of his familiar themes,
such as marital and class conflict within the English
lower-middle classes and his fascination with time shifting,
which was well described in your programme. Time of My Life is a
play with complexity around the shifting time and eavesdropping
on a family in a restaurant, another of Ayckbourn’s favourite
settings. The running time of 2 hours 45 minutes, including
interval, is a big ask for a modern audience and the cast had to
work hard to keep them engaged. So, a difficult challenge to
undertake for the start of LADS 2023/24 centenary season.
It was great to see such a full house for a
Thursday evening and this was followed by similar numbers on
Friday and Saturday. LADS manage to retain their loyal following
through good productions and a fine reputation.
Set and Staging
Congratulations on a cleverly designed and
well-constructed set. It was obvious we were in one of those
local Italian family restaurants with archways, wine bottles and
Mediterranean landscape pictures on the wall. The external
window with the white lettering of the Essa de Calvi facing
outwards was a clever touch as were the white chairs and table
cloths. The main table being initially set to show the family
meal in full flow was full of crockery, napkins and good glasses
with the all-important red wine already poured. We even had the
plastic oranges ‘growing’ up the shelves, nice detail.
The two walls left and right were at good
angles giving good perspective of the room and opening up the
scene for all to see. The doors and archways were well
constructed allowing us to see the coats hung slightly off.
The positioning of the three tables was
complemented well with the three pools of light to focus the
audience’s attention. I wondered if the main table was a little
far upstage. This made the actors at the back in some scenes and
their projection needed to be enhanced but it worked well with
the other two smaller tables and provided a pleasing triangle.
This was no play for a rookie director and
Karen Rogers’ experience showed through in setting the actors in
what is a very static play. There wasn’t much scope for movement
being sat at tables but opportunities to vary the positioning
were found, for example, with the four standing down stage
centre for Glyn and Stephanie’s good bye and the opening and
closing scenes. The chatter at the beginning worked well and
gave the atmosphere of a family occasion early on.
There was a mix of experience from the cast
and I’m sure Karen worked with everyone to help their
performances and characterisation. The past, present and future
elements weren’t easy to follow but with work and patience I
think we got there. Realising that this type of structure isn’t
easily accessible for an audience in one showing is important
and any help to provide the viewers with indications of what is
happening is gratefully received, such as the Christmas jumpers
and the valentine link.
The problem with the play and Sir Alan’s
writing, is that apart from Stephanie it was difficult to like
or warm to any of the characters. If the characters aren’t
engaging then the audience doesn’t really care what happens to
them and sits passively watching without the emotional
connection. I do think this was mainly in the writing but I
wondered if Karen and the cast had worked through how they would
appeal to the audience.
When not in the scene some of the actors
left on stage sat with admirable stillness in the half light. I
liked this effect of the characters being there whilst being
spoken about but not reacting in any way. I’m not sure if this
is scripted but it worked very well.
The lines were delivered well with good
diction and phrasing but for a comedy there weren’t too many
laugh-out-loud moments. There were however, plenty of smiles and
chuckles. The final scene with the start of the family meal was
one of the highlights with energy, life and interest. The
awkward introductions were recognisable and the toast to Laura,
knowing this was Gerry’s last night, was classic Ayckbourn.
Waiters and Owners
I am going to start with Marcel Kay, whose
variety of five characters were a tremendous collection of
enjoyable cameos. The play needed this light relief and Marcel
delivered it well. He managed to capture the stock Italian
waiter with his gestures and enthusiasm for the food. We had
contrast with the surly nonchalance of ‘cheerful Charlie’ and
his lack of customer service. Marcel was a cleaner with mop and
bucket, a drinks waiter that didn’t speak English, an owner who
did speak Italian and a frustrated Pavarotti who burst into song
at any opportunity. His line “listen to the wisdom of the wine”
will stick with me for a long time. Well done Marcel on a good
evening’s work, you deserved a hefty tip.
Laura and Gerry
Val Jones played the disapproving and
unhappy Laura well without any diplomacy around who her
favourite son was. Her snobbishness towards Maureen was cleverly
played with spite but without malice. The telling of the long
ago fling with David was enjoyed by Laura and she made the most
of watching Gerry squirm and react. Val was expressive
throughout and seemed most concerned at the thought of going
broke. A few of the lines were a little sticky but that was
probably first night unfamiliarity. Perhaps the character could
have been developed further, but this was a good performance.
Andrew Rogers’ accent placed the play away
from the north in southern England. His estuary English fitted
Gerry well and led Andrew to give another excellent performance
as the Father with little charm but plenty of arrogance. He was
the type of guy that clicks his fingers at the waiter when
wanting attention and enjoys a guest being sick down her dress.
He pointed out to anyone who’d listen that Adam was a bit of a
loser and that he’d ‘never understood him’ and told Laura not to
be so miserable “it’s your birthday”. It wasn’t easy to imagine
him as King of the Punks with Mohican hair but many strait laced
50/60 somethings went through that phase. Andrew has an ability
to understand character and convey that through the script. It
was a good performance.
Stephanie and Glyn
I really enjoyed Sophie Gilbert as
Stephanie. We saw good variance in the character from the lows
of Glyn telling her of the separation to the confidence of
Stephanie asking for the divorce and sending the wrong type of
water back at last. Stephanie’s slightly forced bonhomie when
with the full family was charming and her willingness to take
the git of her husband back appeared genuine and gave Stephanie
depth that was lacking in some of the others. Sophie was quick
on her cues and brought a variety of pace and turn of phrase as
well as lightly dusted sarcasm that was lost on Glyn. The break
up scene was painful to watch mainly due some excellent acting
from both. Sophie’s despair and sadness was obvious even with
her holding it together. Her hair, face and tears showed Steph’s
feelings. Sophie didn’t once look at Glyn but instead attacked
the dessert trolley after his kiss goodbye. Sophie was on top of
her part and it resulted in a performance of great quality. Well
Jon Gilbert did a good job portraying the
horrible Glyn who took all the worst bits of his father into
this character. Focused on his own needs and seeking admiration
for all that he did (he thought he was the best boss), Glyn was
impossible to warm to. Only when Stephanie broke through his
constant talking to announce that she was pregnant, did we
eventually see a different Glyn and he began to focus a little
more on her. This was a good scene. The “I’m not walking out on
you” scene was a tough one to watch as Jon managed to make the
“you come first” sentiment seem genuine. Telling Stephanie that
“we’re handling it really well” just made the pain worse. The
scene with Adam saw Glyn brought down and Jon delivered this
contrast in the character well.
Maureen and Adam
Maureen came in for quite a bit of abuse
from the snobby family, particularly Glyn and Laura; “colour
blind hairdresser’ ‘lives by the canal’. Lizzie Clarke’s Maureen
was keen to impress Adam’s mother from the Stratton clan. She
wanted ‘to look right, … to get her approval’. I thought that
Lizzie played Maureen with a confidence and air that showed she
knew exactly how to behave and actually was fairly worldly wise.
Not sure this is what Ayckbourn intended, but maybe thirty years
it was a more relevant interpretation.
In his debut for LADS Jason Tucker did well
with Adam and probably learned a lot from the experience. He
coped well with a lot of lines and formed a relationship of
sorts with Maureen. There was good variation in his duologue
with Laura and he delivered his lines well. I’m not sure I ever
believed that he edited a poetry or local arts magazine but Adam
was nicely transitioned at the end as the waiter and budding
I was left wondering how this couple would
ever get together and, in the end, it was proved that Maureen
and Adam weren’t meant for each other although they did seem to
enjoy each other’s company as the scenes went on.
I saw from the programme the incestuous
nature of the cast with Jason and Lizzie and Sophie and Jon
being couples in real life. Not to overlook Karen and Andrew
working together once again. I’m sure there’s an article for
NODA’s Curtain Up! here on acting with your real-life partner.
Sound and Lighting
The choice of music was interesting. I
think we heard My Funny Valentine by Elvis Costello going into
the Valentine Day scene and finished with Turn Back Time by Cher
which made me smile. The variety of European guitar music was
fun as it took us to Spain, Greece and of course Italy.
The wide portfolio of Alan Ayckbourn does
provide plays of varying quality and personally I’m not sure
this was one of his best. However, this cast and production team
did well to tell the story through the characters facing the
question of what is the best time of your life? The suggestion
that it is probably now was a message worth taking away.
Thank you for the evening’s entertainment
and I look forward to the rest of your centenary season.
NODA Regional Representative.
London District 6