Review: If I Were You

MADELINE DE-BERRIE: ‘Ultimately, the performance held the audience’s attention from beginning to end – as it would yours.’

Ayckbourn Cambridge Arts Theatre Jack Ellis Lauren Drummond Liza Goodard

Monday 7th – Saturday 12th June, 7.45pm and 2.30pm on Thursday and Saturday at the Cambridge Arts Theatre.  £10/£21/£25/£27. 

Publicity for this production describes If I Were You as 'a touching comedy where role reversal is as heartfelt as it is humorous' and that was delivered.    

It was, first and foremost a comedy – with no opportunity missed and no line too early. Though the humour was based on shameless sexual stereotyping and the exaggerated characterisation became progressively grating, it was still very funny.   Gender-based caricaturing, effective in its central role in the exploration of gender-based roles, can be forgiven.  

In contrast to the slap stick, the portrayal of a desolate, desperate marriage between Jill (Liza Goddard) and Mal (Jack Ellis), was suitably poignant.  Liza Goddard's portrayal of Jill, whose still despondency and silent housework embodied beautifully the boundary between sanity and madness on which many an inactive housewife balances dangerously.  If this interjection of silent action was a directorial decision – it was driven by a fantastic instinct.  Either way, it held the audience spellbound and created wonderfully a sense of intimacy between character and audience.

There was potential for something more gritty to balance the comic element. Moments which could have been more wonderfully uncomfortable and horrible were partially skipped over.  The inescapable pain of the situation (wonderfully highlighted by the use of the same set throughout) could perhaps have been emphasised more in the first half of the play, and the sub-plot of Chrissie (Lauren Drummond)'s experience of domestic violence, was slightly underplayed. As the production stands, it was too easy viewing.  

While character portrayals were as multi-dimensional as the play required, I could never forget they are actors. One of the greatest challenges within this play is that the married couple are not just playing one character – they are playing two, one of which is of the opposite sex. In this Liza Goddard (Jill) excelled impressively following this 'swap', clearly embodying another character – and taking on many elements of male body language. In contrast, Jack Ellis (Mal) used the switch to move more towards farcical elements of comedy.

Ultimately, the performance held the audience's attention from beginning to end – as it would yours.  Though the production was by no means flawless, the professional standard was high.  If I Were You is well worth a visit for a night of moving entertainment.