by Alan Ayckbourn
Directed by Hazel Phillips
Droylsden Little Theatre
Droylsden Little Theatre, like many societies, had to cancel its season mid-2020. Following ‘The 39 Steps’ and ‘The Kitchen Sink,’ their next production was set to be Alan Ayckbourn’s ‘Table Manners’ – part of his 1973 ‘Norman Conquest’ trilogy. It is only fitting, therefore, that the show to bring them out of the pandemic was to be this one – and one which heads up their 90th season.
Set over a single weekend, Annie’s brother-in-law, Norman, frustrated by a wife with “no love or feeling” for him, has persuaded Annie to go away with him secretly for a weekend in East Grinstead. Their plans are ruined by the arrival of Annie’s brother, Reg, and his prudish wife, Sarah, who, when she finds out about the “dirty weekend,” calls Norman’s wife, Ruth, to come and put a stop to her husband’s philandering. The situation is made even more complicated and hilarious by the presence of Annie’s slow-witted friend and suitor, Tom.
Stella Hutchinson, a D.L.T. favourite, played Sarah with the right amount of haughtiness and snootiness needed to cause disdain. With sharply cutting acidity and snappy comic punchlines, Stella gave a first-rate performance as the stressed wife with ideas of grandeur – and hopes of a weekend away. Chris Sturmey played her hen-pecked husband Reg with the right amount of bubbling anger for the situation he found himself and offered some great comic moments – especially seated around the dinner table and when his anger bubbled over.
Amy Evans played Annie, arguably the heroine of the piece, with the right amount of dowdiness and indecision of a girl caught in the middle of an unexpected love triangle. Initially, the visual age difference between the siblings was jarring but by Act 2 I had settled into the performances. Matt Berry played one of her love interests – country yokel vet, Tom, well. Again, some nice business throughout the play, especially with his confusion of feelings and also little bits of business with props – such as the knife to check his teeth were clean.
Jayne Skudder appeared as Norman’s scorned wife, Ruth. With some good angry moments around the dinner table, there were however some unusual choices in direction as to the character’s visual impairment – which were not effectively blocked at all. In Act 1, Scene 2, the character struggled to see items on the breakfast table but could easily work her way to her seat but by Act 2, without her glasses (a scripted point), she could navigate with ease around – and off stage through patio doors, and find her utensils unaided on the dinner table.
Tristran Hall played the seedy love-rat, Norman, arrogantly and with humour. An effective and frantic performance – I’m not sure how either Sarah or Annie could fall for his constant interruptions, arrogance, and seediness! There were some times when use of comedy vocal inflections were unnecessary and times of ‘adding action for the sake of it’ whilst others were talking, but overall, a solid and effective performance from Tristran.
The costumes, supervised by Marion Hurst, all suited the characters well and showed a progression of time – and certain character traits (yokel, vet wearing the same shirt 2 days on the run; ideas of grandeur in Sarah’s dressing gown etc). Accents were used by most characters, although these were not always sustained or used effectively by all characters. Lighting by Tony Birch and Ben Fox was simple and complemented the attractive set by Tony Birch and Tracy Island. This offered glimpses into the garden – with crazy paving and real leaves on the floor (a nice touch) and into the kitchen area – perhaps hinting at the other two plays in the Ayckbourn suite. Eddie Bradbury and Teresa Ogden did a first-rate job of the props – including the amount (or rather lack of!) food presented in the various scenes – including 2 breakfasts and 2 dinners and tea. I am unsure though why the biscuit tin in Act 1, Scene 1, which was regularly referenced, seemingly contained table crackers? A few missed lines were helped off stage by the prompt – unnamed in the programme.
Direction from Hazel Phillips used the space effectively and characterisation had clearly been worked on well. However, there were too many moments where characters got up and moved from their seat to offer speeches from a large rug area downstage right – almost as if they were performing to their fellow house guests, which felt unnatural. Blocking dinner-table scenes is always difficult on stage but I do think the table needed to have been angled differently, as throughout A2:S1 we just saw the backs of Annie and Ruth and the ending ‘reveal’ of the affair at the end of Act 1 also felt unnatural due to rushed movements in blocking.
Overall, however, I thank D.L.T. for a very pleasant evening and I’m thrilled the theatre is now back in full swing with an interesting season lined up!