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REVIEW: Joking Apart
3:18pm Wednesday 6th March 2013 in Entertainments
PAYING the price of friendship with the perfect couple is the central theme of Alan Ayckbourn’s highly entertaining yet thought provoking play Joking Apart.
Less well-known than many of his other works, this is a slick and well-directed revival of his 1979 play with uniformly good acting and clever characterisation.
Unusually for Ayckbourn, the action takes place over 12 years, with four neatly constructed scenes played out in the garden and tennis court of the ever-so-lovely Richard and Anthea.
The couple’s love for each other is unflinching as is their naivety about how their perfect existence creates a toxic mix of jealousy and unrequited passion among their friends.
This is a play about winners and losers with the characters painfully aware of which side they are on.
Emily Pithon gives a bright performance as the irrepressible Anthea, and Robert Curtis is excellent as her equally exuberant partner.
Their generosity and love knows no bounds but their friends get knocked down along the way. None more so than the hapless vicar Hugh, played with perfect understanding by Edward Harrison, and his long suffering wife Louise (Sally Scott).
As the years tick by, the early cracks in their marriage become chasms and Louise suffers a breakdown.
Whether mental illness would be played for laughs like this in a play written these days is an interesting point, but the audience seemed happy to chortle away at Louise’s rouged cheeks and warbling rendition of Jerusalem as her world fell apart.
Mental health issues aside, there were many genuinely funny moments with Will Barton as love-sick Brian and Thorston Manderlay as Finnish junior tennis champion Sven, providing many of the laughs.
Natasha Byrne oozed cattiness and jealousy as Olive ,and Katie Brayben worked hard playing Brian’s highlyvarious love interests.
Many of the funniest moments came when the cast were yelling to their off-stage brood, and the changing nature of parenthood, work, health and friendship as time goes by are all explored.
Director Lucy Pitman- Wallace uses clever imagery to support the metaphors running through the play, and the set and clever lighting effects deserve praise.
This is a well-considered and entertaining production that might not quite be a smash but is certainly a jolly good shot.
* Joking Apart runs until Saturday, March 23 at Salisbury Playhouse.
Box office 01722 320333 salisburyplayhouse.com.