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October 28, 2013 11:55 am
Why any self-respecting character in a play would sign up for a weekend in a holiday cottage is a mystery. It’s surely the modern-day equivalent of a country house party and we know how they usually end up – either with your trousers round your ankles and a lot of difficult questions, or with a grilling by a mustachioed detective about the suspicious corpse in the library. But in Simon Paisley Day’s new play, tired parents Keith and Briony are too frazzled with fatigue to spot the dangers lurking in a weekend in Wales with their perfect friends Ross and Rosy. Off they pop, hoping that a relaxing couple of days will rekindle their fraying relationship.
Their first problem is that they pack all their troubles and lug them along with them. Their second is that three days in close proximity with the gleamingly organised R and R offers scant hope of R&R. Their third is that unexpected guests arrive – the frightfully posh Charles and Serena and their rebellious 17-year-old niece. It’s not long before several people are in an awkward state of undress and there is blood on the carpet.
Paisley Day’s play is in a sense a modern comedy of manners. There are plenty of toe-curling laughs as characters bleat about organic milk, childcare and the fact that their idyllic Welsh hideaway has lousy mobile phone reception. There’s class tension, rivalry and jealousy. And of course there is sex. Keith and Briony aren’t doing it; Ross and Rosy are, but possibly with the wrong people; Charles and Serena are getting along swimmingly, by dint of tying each other to country stiles. Behind all the farcical goings-on, Paisley Day touches on the loneliness that can prey on modern couples, no matter how gleaming their kitchen.
It’s funny in places, but it doesn’t have Ayckbourn’s touch for combining comedy with brutal truth and aching sadness. The marriage between comic stereotypes and painful hinterland is quite awkward, producing a confused, questionable approach to serious issues, such as depression and sexual assault. And it’s too predictable too often to be really funny or revealing. But Day writes with relish for the comic clash of characters and Edward Hall and his fine cast embrace this with gusto. Tamzin Outhwaite and Barnaby Kay are touching as Keith and Briony, Nicholas Rowe and Issy van Randwyck are wickedly enjoyable as the randy toffs, and Robert Webb and Sarah Hadland unravel spectacularly as the not-so-perfect Ross and Rosy.
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