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 The Theatreguide.London Review

Joking Apart
Union Theatre   Winter 2011-2012

Alan Ayckbourn's 1978 comedy is one of his darkest, but also one of his most interesting, since it presents so very clearly the themes that run through all his work, the deep unhappiness that lies just beneath the surface of middle class contentment and the complete innocence and blindness of those who cause pain to others without realising it.

It is not his funniest play indeed, by the end it stops being funny at all but it really is a must-see for any Ayckbourn fan. 

At the centre of the play are a golden couple, a man and woman for whom everything always goes right and who, as a result, make everyone around them aware of their own failures and inadequacies. 

He has such a flair for business that he's a success without even trying, making his partner feel useless. She is so energetic and efficient that, even though not a churchgoer, she effortlessly takes over all the vicar's wife's work, leaving the poor woman nothing to do.

Every woman resents her and measures her own man against him; every man envies him and falls in love with her. In the course of the play's twelve years the others sink into depression, despair, madness or just irrelevance while the golden couple float along unaware and unaffected. 

And yes, there is some fun along the way, much of it from such Ayckbourn staples as never-seen offstage characters and action. But the real value of this play is that it provides a gloss to others, like The Norman Conquests and Absurd Person Singular, and helps us see what the playwright has been up to throughout his career. 

This Union Theatre production suffers a bit from casting limitations the central couple should be almost painfully more beautiful than anyone else, and one character is supposed to sink into a ridiculous middle age as his girlfriends get younger and younger. 

Actually, nobody seems to age in the play, and that, along with the sense that director Ben De Wynter and his cast really haven't gotten much past the surface of the characters, gives it the feel of a very good student production, one whose main value is to introduce us to this intriguing play rather than to do much with it.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review -   Joking Apart - Union Theatre 2011

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