Review: Four stars for world premiere of Alan Ayckbourn's Family Album in Scarborough

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Family Album, Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough, 4/5

By Sue Wilkinson

As poet Philip Larkin said – and let’s put it politely – “They screw you up your mum and dad. They may not mean to, but they do”.

Family Album written and directed by Alan Ayckbourn at The Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough.Family Album written and directed by Alan Ayckbourn at The Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough.
Family Album written and directed by Alan Ayckbourn at The Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough.

It is Larkin’s This Be The Verse which springs to mind when watching Alan Ayckbourn’s 87th play Family Album which has had its world premiere at the Stephen Joseph Theatre.

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The play opens in 1952 as housewife Peggy and RAF veteran John proudly move into the first home they can really call their own.

Typically for Ayckbourn, it is not long before the fractures appear in this seemingly middle-class idyll.

The couple begins to argue about where the furniture goes – it is surprising how much venom can be instilled into the word ‘darling’ – and builds into a row about the bringing up of their son Dickie and daughter Sandie.

Peggy wants the best education and opportunities for her gifted daughter, John wants all the resources put into Dickie and, worse, thinks money spent on Sandie is a waste of time.

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It would be easy to dismiss John as a misogynistic bully who thinks a good slap is the best way to discipline his children – after all “his father did it to him and made him the man he is today”. More echoes of Larkin: “But they [parents] were screwed up in their turn.”

We meet Sandie in 1992. She is living in the house she has inherited from her parents and is hosting a 10-year-old’s birthday party without her AWOL husband.

The third and final time zone of the play is now. Granddaughter Alison and her partner Jess are escaping the house Alison has inherited.

To Larkin’s final verse: “Man hands on misery to man … don’t have any kids yourself.”

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Family Album was inspired by a programme on BBC4 called A House Through Time – and Ayckbourn has copied that idea but on a smaller scale – rather than a home through the centuries, it is a look at life over the past eight decades.

Politics and social mores change – the influence of one generation of a family on that of another does not. There are profound and bleak things to be heard in Family Album but there is also love and hope – and it is wrapped up in Ayckbourn’s deft and light touch which takes you deviously into darker reaches of the soul.

There is also his characteristic playing with time – the action happens in all three time zones at the same time as the actors weave in between each other.

The performances from the cast of five – not counting the ‘to-me-to-you’ hilarious removal men – are outstanding. Antony Eden brings a pathos to the bullying and damaged minor public schooled John and Georgia Burnell a steely edge to his wife Peggy.

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The most joy and laughs are in the double act which is Elizabeth Boag as granddaughter Alison and her wife, a working-class northerner Jess, played by Tanya-Loretta Dee. Boag has the most baggage to carry – a lifetime of hurt, expectation and abandonment. Her pain is obvious but so is her zest to live her life her way.

Frances Marshall as Sandie is the most damaged. Her performance as the hippy mum is deeply moving as it becomes clear she has been scarred by her childhood. To paraphrase Larkin, her parents have filled her with the faults they had and added some extra, just for her.

Family Album is on at the Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough, until Saturday October 1. Tickets on 01723 370541 and online at


See How They Run (12A)

In cinemas today, 4/5

By Damon Smith

At the Ambassadors Theatre in London’s glittering West End, cast and crew of a smash hit 1950s play produced by Petula Spencer (Ruth Wilson) are buzzing with excitement at news that American film producer John Woolf (Reece Shearsmith) intends to translate their stage hit to the big screen.

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Leo Kopernick (Adrien Brody) will direct an adaptation penned by playwright Mervyn Cocker-Norris (David Oyelowo).

The cast of the London production including Richard Attenborough (Harris Dickinson) and his wife Sheila Sim (Pearl Chanda) are hopeful of making the leap to Hollywood.

When a murder victim is discovered on stage, Inspector Stoppard (Sam Rockwell) and eager-to-please rookie Constable Stalker (Saoirse Ronan) arrive at the theatre to solve the case.

Everyone is a suspect including usher Dennis (Charlie Cooper), a theatrical Dame (Shirley Henderson) and her trusty butler (Paul Chahidi).

Time is of the essence as a diabolical killer threatens to strike again and again in a comical whodunnit penned by Mark Chappell and directed by Tom George.