Joking Apart

The 35th anniversary of Alan Ayckbourn’s Joking Apart takes to the stage at the Nottingham Playhouse

Perhaps I’m guilty of a touch of theatrical idealism, but when the artistic director’s stated aim in his programming of a play is to send the audience away ‘a little more content and a little less worried about all the things you think you could be doing better’, one starts to wonder what the point of it all is.

Beyond having to compete with the well known acoustic quirks of Nottingham Playhouse’s drum auditorium, neither the audience nor the cast had much to do, plodding through this inoffensive little foray into middle England together.
There were some nice touches in Joking Apart, with a beautifully designed set from Tom Rogers which was redressed in choreographed sequences in between acts by the cast to highlight the passage of time.

The addition of a single rogue firework bursting across the stage was another delightful moment, but these were few and far between in this exploration of how ‘the unremittingly perfect can prove just as much a source of unhappiness as it can happiness.’

The cast (barring Will Barton’s incredibly wooden performance as Brian) moved capably and professionally through their dialogue, but it is a show that even a mediocre actor could do in their sleep, the director seeming to require nothing more than that they enter, deliver their lines, drink some punch and leave again.

The exception was Robert Curtis’ Richard, whose role was that of a glorified stage hand that had to occasionally mime playing tennis, so taxing a responsibility that of course he had a commensurate reduction in dialogue. For the cast, one feels that ‘Joking Apart’ will be a paid stepping stone in between better jobs elsewhere.