Alan Ayckbourn has written himself a little present.
For his 80th play he has decided to see how far you can push an audience when it comes to participation. Turns out the answer is pretty far. In fact, you can push them all the way on to the actual stage and get them to perform.
It’s an odd little idea: Ayckbourn throws caution and control to the wind, giving his actors the loosest of frameworks around which to play - apparently. The truth is that the master has a little tighter hold on the reins than at first might seem the case.
He has invented the Karaoke Theatre Company, a group of actors whose enthusiasm is perhaps their greatest talent. The joke about this ‘created’ company continues off the stage, with the actors’ biogs in the programme not the actual actors biogs, but those created by Ayckbourn.
If it sounds complicated, it is, quite. This means the actors spend quite a long time explaining the rules and trying to get the audience on side. It’s a lot of fun, but after a while you do start to wish for a perfectly crafted piece of Ayckbournian drama and for the action to really crack on.
Once all the explanation of what will happen and the role we the audience will play in the action has happened, the fun does eventually get properly underway and there are broad brushstroke little vignettes served up. Deliberately broad, they are very funny, but the comedy is ratcheted up continuously by the element of the audience providing sound effects, narration and, eventually, a character on stage.
It’s a long evening and there are times when the joke sags, but that is entirely down to the audience. What’s really remarkable about this piece of work is the experimental nature. Theatre is different every night, actors and directors are fond of saying. Nowhere is this more true than in Ayckbourn’s latest.
To Oct 7.