Pros: Laugh-out-loud moments pepper the piece.
Cons: The choice of text lends itself slightly to moments of ham.
First of all, I have to say what a real treat it is to go to a theatre in West London for once. Usually I’m trekking across London, which is fine but to go just 15 minutes away to a theatre that was round the corner from my childhood home was pretty darn lovely. They have a good selection of pale ales, some nice décor and yes, not enough legroom – everything you want (or at least expect) from your local pub theatre. Theatre isn’t the sole possession of the West End, and those Londoners who can are privileged to enjoy theatre on their doorstep.
Alan Ayckbourn’s Time of My Life takes place over a number of years, hopping back and forth in time, in the same Italian restaurant, tracking the ups and downs of the Stratton family – divorce and engagements, deaths and new life – in a town in West Yorkshire in the late 1980s. It’s been over twenty years since the play was first performed and watching this production, it’s not just the clothes and the hair (oh god, the hair) that feels dated for the stereotypes; the plodding dialogue and the hammy performances all make the play feel a bit tired.
There are some bright spots though, and Aykbourn’s writing, although creaky, does provide some laughs. Most of the comedy does however come from Adam Wittek’s brilliant comic performance of restaurant owner Calvinu and his four waiters. The daft characters are a gift for an actor and Wittek gets every last drop of value from them.
Tansy Adair as daughter-in-law Stephanie is easily the pick of the rest, remaining very present throughout the performance. Adair brims with life – both in laughter and in tears – and makes you forget how dated and dull the play is. Almost.
Ensemble pieces with back-and-forth dialogue are Ayckbourn’s bread and butter, and must be a challenge for any cast to master. There is a natural rhythm that the actors must find, and it only really happens in front of an audience. It seems an odd choice then to invite the press on opening night when the cast are still feeling the play out.
It doesn’t help of course that the plot is so achingly slow, bumbling along without much happening for two acts. The play does last just over two hours (plus a fifteen minute interval) but only because we spend half the time listening to characters discuss situations that we later see played out, rendering the whole thing a little repetitive. Even the central family dinner scene that anchors the piece is almost over when the play begins and it feels like we miss out on all the best action. Perhaps we will have to wait for the prequel.
For this critic, the choice of text just didn’t work; it was too mired in the cheesy comic stereotypes of a time in British culture that we have long since moved on from. Something a bit more modern for the West London audience next time please?
Writer: Alan Ayckbourn
Director: Law Ballard
Producer: Upstanding Productions in association with Rare Insight Productions
Booking Until: 28 March 2015
Box Office: 0208 995 6035
Booking Link: http://www.tabardweb.co.uk/timeofmylife.htm