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Round and Round the Garden

by on 27 February 2020

One Step, Two Steps, Tickly Under There

Round and Round the Garden

by Alan Ayckbourn

Rare Fortune Productions at OSO Arts Centre, Barnes until 6th March

Review by Eleanor Marsh

Part of Ayckbourn’s The Norman Conquests trilogy, Round and Round the Garden is based on the premise that Annie, who is the main carer of her demanding mother, has decided she needs a weekend off. She has been beguiled by her sister Ruth’s husband Norman and is planning on a “dirty weekend”; something she has never before contemplated. Things inevitably go wrong when Norman arrives early to collect her rather than meet as planned and they are joined by brother Reg and his wife Sarah and – for added farcical comedy value – sister Ruth. The family are also visited by local vet, Tom, who has ostensibly called in to check on the cat but really has his eye on Annie. Drunken escapades, temper tantrums and inappropriate liaisons ensue.

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The play is presented “in the round”, which is an interesting pun on the title and could work in another venue, but at the OSO the term is somewhat misleading as the vast majority of the audience were situated “end on” as normal, with twelve lucky punters literally on the stage and this felt a little uncomfortable and very unbalanced. The play itself is of its time and the design and direction paid suitable homage to the classic TV sitcoms of that era. It would have been very easy to fall into the trap of trying to update the setting and thereby making the play appear dated. As a period piece it works well. Congratulations, therefore, to director Maurice Thorogood for having the courage of his convictions and a true belief in the writing. Congratulations to him, also for taking on the formidable task of covering for an indisposed actor and playing the part of Reg himself, book in hand. And playing it very well, too. The energy levels of the entire cast seemed to increase every time Reg made an appearance.

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The characters in this, and every Ayckbourn play, are far more complex than they first appear, and they require actors to be thoughtful in producing a multi-layered performance. Despite holding that script Maurice Thorogood gave us the impression that beneath the blustering “hail fellow well met” lurked a much darker character and it came as no surprise that wife Sarah (Fiona Evans) was just a little tempted to stray. Jeremy Drakes as Tom was the quintessential sitcom underdog and played the role straight without trying too hard for laughs. The laughs came, as they always do when the writing is of this standard. A totally different approach was taken by Mike Duran as Norman, who played up the comedy so much that there were times it was quite irritating and, more importantly, made us question why any of the intelligent women he managed to seduce would have been interested. Why did the fragrant Ruth (nicely portrayed by Julia Haythorn) marry him in the first place, let alone stick with him when he was not only a cad and a bit of an idiot but also left her to pay the mortgage! As for poor Annie, she is the most difficult character of all to play; downtrodden carer with no self-confidence one minute and glamorous femme fatale taking no prisoners the next. Robin Miller was most effective in her scenes with Tom, where she appeared to have the upper hand; it would have been good to have seen some of that steel of character in the scenes with Norman, too.

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Rare Fortunes provided a very enthusiastic audience with an entertaining evening and fought valiantly against the handicap of losing a leading actor at short notice. And for two short hours they transported me back to the orange wallpaper and brown carpets of my 1970’s youth.

Eleanor Marsh
February 2020

Photography courtesy of Rare Fortune Productions

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