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Joking Apart – Alan Ayckbourn

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Returning on it’s 40th anniversary as a touring double-bill with Better Off Dead, formidable playwright Alan Ayckbourn has brought back one of his own favourite plays for a month at the New Vic Theatre.

Set in the garden of the “golden couple”, Joking Apart is a play that pokes enormous fun at envy and jealousy in middle class life as those around them struggle to deal with the fact that their lives are just not quite as blessed.

A group of ordinary couples descend into their own angst over a period of 12 years – but what you see in each of the character’s individual mediocre tragedy is overwhelmed by the laughable set of circumstances that will see you chuckle all the way through.

There are particular moments where it is impossible not to laugh. Moments of tremendously awkward silence before the ice is broken (by another character saying what it seems the rest are all thinking) are played extremely well. Also, the role of Sven is perhaps the main anchor for these frustrations – a straight talking, stubborn character (who incidentally is hilarious). He is played extremely well by Leigh Symonds – a real highlight of the show.

The show gets off to a quick start and manages to retain it most of the way through. There are one or two (somewhat unavoidably) lengthy scene changes and as a story – not a lot happens outside of the immediate plot, but this play pulls every last bit of comedy and tragedy out of a very relatable set of circumstances and that is almost certainly the point.

Writer and Director Alan Ayckbourn knows his stagecraft and a drama student might be very inspired by much of the production. Clever devices assist the play throughout – for example, the use of children’s ages to show passing of time and an almost silent character (at one point in the play), who despite saying very little, allows the other characters to further the plot through her presence.

The play could have been written yesterday – it remains as relevant and entertaining as ever. A strong cast delivers this pleasant light comedy.

Joking Apart runs throughout October at the New Vic Theatre, Newcastle-Under-Lyme before moving to The Old Laundry Theatre, Bowness-on-Windermere for a short run in November: To book tickets, visit www.newvictheatre.org.uk.