“My mother used to say, Delia, if ever S-E-X rears its ugly head, close your eyes before you see the rest of it.”
Alan Ayckbourn’s play Bedroom Farce follows three married couples in their bedrooms over a long, long night as a troubled fourth couple, Trevor and Susannah spill forth with their problems and visit each couple sometimes together, sometimes apart, but always causing havoc and making everyone question their own marital stability. It arrives at the Duke of York’s from a run last year at the Rose in Kingston with 5 of the 8 original cast members for a 14 week run.
I realise it has the word ‘farce’ in the title, but is the sight of a man in a coat several sizes too big, or a poorly constructed desk falling apart really so hilarious? The theatre was full of people laughing loudly from the word go at everything put in front of them, but I was not one of them. This play was at its best when the physical comedy stopped and the wit in the writing was allowed to shine through, but these moments were too few and far between for me and even then it was often just too mannered and inoffensive.
Jenny Seagrove and David Horovitch (replacing Jane Asher and Nicholas Le Prevost) are probably the most fun to watch as an older couple for whom life’s excitement is now a sneaky midnight feast of pilchards on toast, mainly because they were furnished with the best lines and none of the pratfalls. It was a remarkably pleasant surprise to see Jenny Seagrove letting her hair down (literally at one point, although it was soon swept up into a hairnet and turban combo) and cracking off some brilliantly humorous lines such as the one up top.
Orlando Seale and Rachel Pickup were convincingly annoying as the annoying Trevor and Susannah, whose tumultuous relationship forces all the characters to look at their own marriages, but I found them just too, well annoying to be at all interested in why a) they should stay together and b) why their friends didn’t just tell them to eff off and come back in the morning! We were given no reason to care for them or their relationship. I did enjoy Daniel Betts and Finty Williams’ appealing Malcolm and Kate, only just beginning to come to terms with the life sentence of life and marriage in suburbia and there’s good work from Sara Crowe (replacing Lucy Briers), but much as I wanted to love Tony Gardner’s bed-ridden Trevor, he was saddled with painfully unconvincing struggles to move around and given little to do but be irascible.
The set put me unfortunately in mind of an MFI showroom with its three ugly bedrooms side by side, a visual aesthetic which may be ‘realistic’ but it was not pleasant to look at. And the green trousers sported by Daniel Betts were simply horrific (although he also has a surprisingly well-defined set of abs which made up for it somewhat).
I came out of Bedroom Farce thinking ‘smug, suburban nonsense’, I’ve revised my opinion slightly upwards since then, but I still struggle to see what so many people in the audience saw and loved. Unchallenging and unadventurous, for me it felt a bit like one of those BBC sitcoms that appear every so often, full of forced canned laughter and disappear after a single series. I suspect it will appeal more to married suburban couples, a life I know nothing of(!) and few others: tellingly, two different groups of young people sitting in rows in front of me did not return after the interval.