THE TROUBLE WITH OLD LOVERS
Grand Theatre, Wolverhampton, Tuesday 9th July, 2013
Tom (Peter Amory) is shopping at home for garden furniture when wife Alice (Nicola Bryant) comes home from a wedding she attended without him. She has unwittingly invited a couple over for dinner the following evening and, to make matters worse, the couple are both former lovers of Tom and Alice… And to make matters even worse, the couple announce they are bringing along a fifth wheel, a woman they met at the wedding.
Cue some middle class panic. Wouldn’t you know it: the woman turns out to be Tom’s mistress from three years ago?!
In the hands of a master of exposing middle class absurdity and pricking middle class aspirations and preoccupations like Alan Ayckbourn, this play could have got off to a cracking start, but unfortunately Angela Huth’s script begins slowly and doesn’t get out of first gear for far too long. We are given two lengthy and verbose scenes before the dinner guests even arrive. The dinner party happens off-stage, while we’re having an interval, and over coffee, the play changes tack as the truth comes out. Tom’s former mistress, Mary (Shona Lindsay) pours scorn on them all, a glamorous spectre at the feast, shit-stirring in a rather condescending manner. Oddly, Tom and Alice seem to take it on the chin and it falls to insufferable buffoon (what did Alice used to see in him?) Edward (Simon Linnell) to speak out and assert his point of view. Finally, Alice speaks her mind before sending Mistress Mary on her way – Nicola Bryant caps off a very likeable performance with this dignified rebuttal of Mary’s claims. In fact, Bryant gets all the funniest lines and there are not enough of them. Shona Lindsay cuts an elegant figure as a woman in red and I felt sorry for Joanna Waters’s Laura, the dowdiest of the female characters who doesn’t get to glam up for dinner. Linnell’s characterisation seems to come from a much earlier era and somewhat out of place with the others, and Peter Amory makes a bluff old barrister, complacent and verging on curmudgeonly but it is difficult to see the passionate figure Mary claims he is.
The trouble with The Trouble With Old Lovers, old love, is the pace. It needs to get going far sooner – director Ian Dickens could cut whole swathes of the first two scenes; it would be more effective if we were unaware of Tom’s recent affair so Mary’s arrival would be more of a shock for us as well as for him. There needs to be more contrast in tone. The comedy needs to be emphasised so that the change to drama is more defined. If the first act is sub-Ayckbourn, the second is sub-Ibsen. Everything is suddenly dripping with significance and heavy-handed symbolism (literally heavy-handed: Tom breaks Alice’s spectacles). At the end, Alice is the only one I care about – if the first act had been better structured, I might have taken to some of the others as well.