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A Chorus of Disapproval, Harold Pinter Theatre

Alan Ayckbourn
Directed by Trevor Nunn
★★★

Pros: What could be described as a dream line up of talent.

Cons: Underdeveloped plot ideas lead to a weird combination of humour and cruelty which don’t mix well.

Our Verdict: A bit of a disappointment, I expected more from such strong actors and I think the script and (dare I say it?!) the direction let it down.

Courtesy of Catherine Ashmore for The Guardian

It’s a tricky thing, press night. The auditorium is filled with newspaper journalists, reviewers, actors and performers, die-hard fans, some ticket buyers and fillers. Yet all this seems to combine to produce the worst behaved audiences I ever see. It’s happened to me a number of times, when I’ve been ‘lucky’ enough to get to a press night. You would think it would be perfect, that everyone would have some understanding of the etiquette of theatre but, alas, this is not the case. I am not going to make this review into a rant but I needed to get that off my chest. I don’t know how professional reviewers concentrate when the only theatre they see is overshadowed by whispered conversations and mobile phones.

So it is with this in mind that I turn to the play, A Chorus of Disapproval. Written by Alan Ayckbourn, directed by Trevor Nunn and starring Rob Brydon, this play is the epitome of Britishness, which seems somewhat to be the theme of 2012. The show starts with the end of another, The Beggar’s Opera. The entire ensemble of the local AmDram/Opera Society perform a classic song and dance routine and as the curtains drop (amidst some clever lighting to represent said curtains), Nigel Harman’s character, Guy, is left out of the celebrations. Soon he is alone on stage; the audience start to wonder what is going on and as he turns to leave, the clocks are rewound three months to a simpler time when rehearsals had only just begun. The play follows the extravagant, somewhat unrealistic ensemble as they meet every evening to rehearse the play and the mess that Guy gets himself into purely by being a bit of a pushover. The other main character is Dafydd, the somewhat overly enthusiastic director, taken on by Brydon.

It was difficult to reconcile the lovable Rob Brydon we know from TV with the character of Dafydd, the professional performer turned amateur director. You wanted to like him but it’s a struggle; his naivety and egomania contradict the fact that he does generate the most laughs. Nigel Harman, last seen in Shrek the Musical, proved that he can do subtler comedy as well. Sadly however, the part of Guy is a bit of a nonentity, there to allow the other characters to have a story. I’m not sure if that is what Ayckbourn intended and, if it was, it doesn’t work and in this production it leads to Harman being sadly underused. The supporting cast were strong, each an individual character with their own personality, and they managed to keep the show moving along at a fast pace which produces an efficient piece of ensemble drama and allows the audience to happily watch the minor characters rather than follow the scenes.

The show has a very clever ending, a sudden reminder from Ayckbourn that we are watching a play-within-a-play and that endings can be rewritten and people forgiven. This does go some distance towards making up for the patchiness of much of the previous three hours. Most of the best scenes are the truly emotional ones where Nunn manages to bring the performances out of the actors. However, despite some good writing, I’m not convinced that Ayckbourn’s combination of comedy with other crueller themes works; some (more pretentious) people would say it’s just me not understanding the subtle hand of the great author, but I would say that it just isn’t that funny…

Overall, while we all know these famous performers can act, they fail to bring any real spark to the stage. While they are the obvious people to blame for the lack of va-va-voom, I have to bring both Trevor Nunn and Alan Ayckbourn to the front to take the blame too! I’m not the biggest Ayckbourn fan in the first place – I don’t understand his popularity and I often think he reuses the old model of ‘middle class idyll ruined by [insert story]‘. I genuinely think that A Chorus of Disapproval was patched together without much thought into whether the jokes would work with the characters. Nunn also doesn’t seem to bring much to the table. His direction is simple, played straight and he seems (with a little help from Ayckbourn) to turn Nigel Harman into a mediocre performer, which I know he isn’t. Fundamentally there are cogs missing, and no matter how much polishing they do with those big names on the bill, it remains somewhat disappointing.

Please feel free to leave your thoughts and opinions in the comments section below!

A Chorus of Disapproval runs at the Harold Printer Theatre until 5th January 2013. 
Box Office: 0844 871 7622 or book online at

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