It is 40 years since Alan Ayckbourn wrote ‘Joking Apart’ and this comedic play still has all the elements of British behavior from awkward silences to back-handed comments.
The play tells the story of a group of friends and their gatherings over the span of 12 years, all hosted with the somewhat power couple, Anthea (Frances Marshall) and Richard (Laurence Pears).
They are a couple who seem to have it all, a wonderful home life, children and each other, and offer their hospitality to people who only seem to envy them more and more.
There is a sense of realism, through the characters’ behaviour in the natural setting of outdoor gatherings and in the types of lives they lead. First, there are business partners, Sven (Leigh Symonds) and Olive (Liz Jadav) who shows the way the British like to put on a front to keep up appearances, Sven and Olive think of themselves highly and almost a gift to the gatherings.
Then there are the neighbours Hugh (Jamie Baughan) and Louise (Louise Shuttleworth) who are the newcomers to the community and there is friend-turned-business-partner, Brian (Richard Stacey), who cannot manage to escape the past of being in love with Anthea, and so has a new love interest at every scene.
Set in the back garden of Richard and Anthea’s home, they are rarely seen together until the last scene of the play – do they offer up their hospitality as a way to share their success or is it the only way they can appreciate their success in life by doing so?
There are moments of literary gold in this play, especially when Mandy (Naomi Petersen) one of Brian’s new love interests, rips up her painting of ‘truth’ and throws it in the air. Strongly portraying that the truth cannot be hidden forever, as much as they try and cover it up with silly games and gatherings; the truth is going to be set free.
With a strong sense of realism and emphasis of British mannerisms, one would think this would go down a treat with a pot of vanilla ice cream (another British theatre staple), however, this play was more radio play than theatre play, as it is not going to grip you to the edge of your seat, it would be of value to a daily commute or on the way back from the school run.
Perhaps it was the element of realism in natural speech which is this play’s downfall or that it was only set outside. The bottom line is that this play is for the weak-hearted who want something to distract from their everyday lives, which is not necessarily a bad thing because isn’t that the essence of being British anyway?
What marmite is to some people is what this play will be to others, personal preference.