JOKING Apart, Alan Ayckbourn’s tale of unrequited love, social pressures and tennis opens at Salisbury Playhouse this week.

Set over 12 years, the action takes place every four years in the perfect garden of perfect couple Richard and Anthea.

Yet the couple’s relationship only manages to highlight the problems their friends are facing, and soon their idyllic world comes under threat.

As with many of Ayckbourn’s plays there are dark undercurrents and angst behind the veil of social niceties.

The playwright has been quoted as saying Joking Apart is one of his favourite works and he went to see the play when it was performed in Nottingham before its run in Salisbury.

Sally Scott, who plays vicar’s wife Louise, says that meeting Ayckbourn after the performance was a memorable experience.

“It so rarely happens so it’s a great honour and very nerve wracking, as you just have to hope your performance was as he intended,” she said.

“He is a theatre legend but he was very complimentary and said he thoroughly enjoyed it.

“It isn’t performed that often so he was very happy to see it revived in this way.”

Written in 1979, many of the play’s themes are still highly relevant, with the cast taking the journey from the carefree naivety of their early 20s through to their more experienced yet troubled 30s.

Scott’s character Louise comes under increasing pressure to keep up the façade as her marriage and life start to fall apart.

“She’s married to the vicar so she’s under great scrutiny and has to maintain this illusion that everything about him, and their life, is good,” she said.

“It must be like being a member of the royal family on a much smaller scale – nothing you do is private.

“There are some quite challenging, adult themes in this play.

“Rather than being a big adventure like Way Upstream for example, it’s more subtle and concentrates on the relationships between the characters and how they change with time.

“Although Richard and Anthea are the central couple, they are not the main couple – they get to have their happy relationship – and it’s what happens to everyone around them that makes this so dramatic.”

Ayckbourn’s watery tale Way Upstream was produced by the Playhouse last year and was the most successful production ever staged in terms of ticket sales.

Scott was in the cast and director Lucy Pitman-Wallace is also making a return visit with Joking Apart.

“I love the Playhouse, it does so much for such a wide number of people and has a very special atmosphere,” Scott said.

“I’m very excited to be coming back to Salisbury.”

Joking Apart is on at the Salisbury Playhouse until Saturday, March 23.

For tickets, call 01722 320333 or visit