Sunday, February 08, 2009

Theatre: Life & Beth

Arts Theatre, Cambridge, 7/2/2009.

One of the many odd gaps in my theatrical education involves Alan Ayckbourn. I've seen a few things of his on the TV from time to time, I believe, but I'm not sure I'd caught any on stage until we got to Absurd Person Singular at the Arts last November. But, yesterday, we followed that up with Life & Beth.

Actually, I suspect that this is relatively minor Ayckbourn. It's not terribly long (under two hours with the interval), it's got a fairly small cast, and it doesn't seem to be readable as much of a big political allegory. It's also pretty well impossible to discuss without giving away bits and pieces of the plot, so please be warned if you're going to catch this...

Actually, though, one doesn't need to know a lot about the plot to find, say, the big theatrical coup at the end of the first act not very surprising. The thing is generally a bit slight, to be honest; the overt jokes are few and far between, and only the central character is allowed any development; one of the others comes on completely mute, for rather weak reasons, and just stays that way. As all of the (living) characters are living lives of apparently-very-Ayckbournian quiet desperation, this makes the thing seriously bleak, if you let your attention shift from Beth herself. She ends up a bit better off, but by a not-very-startling route.

(Beth, by the way, was played by Liza Goddard, who ended up looking much more aged and careworn than she evidently does in reality. Marks for lack of actorly vanity there.)

The only things I was left wondering about were (a) how the central couple were so widely assumed to have a perfect marriage, when one of them was such a blatant, classical jerk, and (b) quite where Gordon actually went post mortem (assuming that he wasn't just a figment), as I think that there were some slightly dark hints.

All of which probably sounds much more negative than it should. The fact is that Ayckbourn can write, and create characters, and I'll be aiming to fill that gap in my education further in future, when the opportunity arises.

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