Tag Archives: Antony Eden

Ups and Downs


New Vic Theatre, Newcastle under Lyme, Tuesday 10th October, 2017


Alan Ayckbourn expertly directs this revival of his 1979 farce, playing in a double-bill with his latest work, A Brief History of Women.  Set in rambling manor house The Pines, Taking Steps has most of the ingredients of classic farce but the traditional element of doors is swapped for two flights of stairs.  The action takes place on three floors of the hours, with characters running, sneaking and hurrying up and down stairs in bids to avoid each other or seek each other out.  And yet, all three floors are set in the same square of stage, with furniture from three rooms sharing the same space.  The stairs are flat, running alongside two sides of the square.  This allows us to see characters in different rooms at the same time, if you see what I mean.  It works like a charm and the added silliness of actors galumphing along flat sets of stairs augments the overall ridiculousness of the plot – which I won’t attempt to summarise here.

Louise Shuttleworth is great value as Elizabeth, a thwarted (and self-deluded) dancer, attempting to leave her husband.  Laurence Pears is also great as her brother Mark, who has problems of his own, not least of which is people falling asleep when he is talking to them.  The heightened accents, a tad more RP than we use today, add to the period feel – the complications would not work in today’s world of smartphones and technology.  Laura Matthews’s Kitty is quickly established as the timid, overwrought former fiancée of Mark, while Anthony Eden’s hilariously inarticulate solicitor Watson is an absolute delight.  Leigh Symonds’s builder Leslie Bainbridge is all-too recognisable from the ‘real world’ but it is Russell Dixon’s overbearing Roland, Elizabeth’s husband, who dominates the piece and its events.  Dixon is marvellous and his Roland has many colours, all of them increasingly blurring as he knocks back the scotch.

The writing is sublime – Ayckbourn’s dialogue can’t be bettered in my view – and there is plenty of physical business as the action winds itself in knots.

Still funny after all these years and performed by a top-notch ensemble, the play reveals human inadequacies in a vastly enjoyable way, and it’s an undiluted pleasure to escape into this highly manipulated world and get away from the unfolding, deteriorating farce that is our current government and the Brexit ‘negotiations’.  Anything that brings hearty laughter in these troubled times is to be welcomed and embraced like an old and much-loved friend.


Laurence Pears and Louise Shuttleworth argue in the bedroom while Antony Eden waits downstairs. (Photo: Tony Bartholomew)


The Ayckbourn Supremacy


Belgrade Theatre, Coventry, Tuesday 1st November, 2016


Alan Ayckbourn’s hit comedy from 1967 still comes across as fresh and funny, mainly because the devices it uses (mistaken identities, misunderstandings) are timeless and as old as theatre itself.  At the time of its premiere, the play was actually rather progressive with its matter-of-fact depiction of a young unmarried couple and their evident sexual relationship.  Ginny and Greg have only been together for a month!  Gasp!  Of course, these days we take these things in our stride; Ayckbourn was clearly ahead of the game when it comes to the way social mores were going.

It soon becomes apparent that Ginny is more worldly-wise than Greg.  Details of previous lovers emerge and she is rather too vague about the flowers and chocolates that continue to arrive.  Greg’s suspicions (among other things) are aroused and he follows her to what he thinks is her parents’ house in deepest Buckinghamshire.  Somehow he arrives before she does and so a web of mistakes and misunderstandings ensues, entangling the characters but giving the audience delicious treat after treat.  Ayckbourn takes dramatic irony and stretches it almost beyond the bounds of plausibility but he is such a master of the form, he knows exactly how to stir and season the pot.

The cast of four is excellent, playing the finely-tuned comedy like a virtuoso quartet.  Antony Eden is Greg, well-meaning, decent but a bit dim Greg, the catalyst for the chaos.  Lindsey Campbell is his perky but secretive girlfriend, with Robert Powell and Ayckbourn veteran Liza Goddard as the older couple mistaken for her parents.  Eden is energetic and likable while Campbell balances attractiveness with shadiness – we begin to suspect she’s not quite good enough for him.  Powell’s comic timing is a joy as grumpy Philip is wound up like a clock spring while Goddard is the perfect foil for him as the sweetly oblivious Sheila who is not as dim as she might appear.

Robin Herford directs with a light touch.  The characters come across as credible people in an incredible situation and the laughs keep coming.  Big, hearty belly laughs – it is as though maestro Ayckbourn is playing us like fiddles and we love him for it.  He keeps us in on the joke throughout and we revel in our superior knowledge as the characters flail and flounder.  It all seems to stem from a terribly English inability to introduce ourselves properly.  We assume, we leap to conclusions, rather than breach convention, rather than risk appearing impolite and say who we are and what we mean.  And we’re all the more fun because of it!


Confusion reigns: Liza Goddard and Antony Eden


Lady in Dread


Festival Theatre, Malvern, Tuesday 14th May, 2013


Stephen Mallatratt’s splendid adaptation of Susan Hill’s novel continues to pull in the crowds in London’s West End, and this touring production shows no dip in quality.  The genius of the adaptation is that it celebrates its theatricality.  The central ghost story becomes a play-within-a-play.  Arthur Kipps (Julian Forsyth) has enlisted The Actor (Antony Eden) to help him zhuzh up his storytelling techniques – he has a tale from his past he needs to get off his chest.  As they rehearse, the Actor brings in more and more theatrical elements (lighting changes, recorded sounds) taking on the role of Kipps for himself.  This means that Kipps has to portray all the other characters in the story and as we are led through some humorous scenes that chart Kipps’s halting progress as a budding performer, we are introduced to the conventions that will be used as the central narrative takes shape.

And so we are drawn in to the tale of a young solicitor visiting the remote estate of a deceased client.  There is a town of suspicious and truculent locals and a tragic history that makes everyone shifty and jumpy.

It works brilliantly.

The atmosphere is quickly created and the tension cranks up through judicious use of silence and sudden loud noises.  People scream.  As more details about the story are teased out, the terror in the auditorium becomes almost palpable.

Antony Eden leads the performance as the Actor, guiding Kipps through his various roles, and playing out moments of suspense and shock with perfect timing.  Julian Forsyth is endearing as the mumbling Kipps who gets into his stride with an impressive range of characterisations.

Robin Herford’s direction plays the audience like a string section.  Contrasts of loud and quiet, stillness and movement, and changes of pace keep us on edge.  When laughter comes, it is from nervous relief.  Our imaginations are thoroughly engaged – and no one can scare you more than you can scare yourself.

I think people keep going back to The Woman in Black precisely because it delivers a theatrical experience.  It puts us through the mill via tried and tested theatrical conventions and techniques.  It is like surrendering yourself to a ride at a theme park.  A ghost train.

Something's gone bump...Antony Eden has a rough night

Something’s gone bump…Antony Eden has a rough night