Chris Eldon Lee reviews Alan Ayckbourn’s “Time of My Life” which is in repertoire at the New Vic in Newcastle-Under-Lyme until Saturday 26th October.
This is Ayckbourn at his best, treading territory he enjoys most – disastrous celebrations.
The Stratton family are at their favourite foreign restaurant. Ayckbourn is purposely imprecise as to which bit of ‘foreign’ it is supposed to be, but the flags are black, yellow and green stripes. (Looking it up on wikipedia doesn’t help). Anyway, it’s Mum’s 50-somethingth birthday; burly husband Gerry presides and both sons have brought their partners.
The date is January 18th 1992. At least it is on the family table. But when the lights go up on the tables-for-two either side, we see Glyn and his wife Stephanie on several occasions after the event, and we witness Adam and his fiancée Maureen’s relationship unfolding backwards through time before the event. (Don’t worry. It’s easy enough to follow as long as you don’t look at your watch)
Mr Ayckbourn is a great fan of his time-travelling, play-writing predecessor J B Priestley and this is his chronological masterpiece; cleverly using temporal discontinuities to reveal the state of the family fortunes; both financial and emotional.
“Time of My Life” was premiered 21 years ago and redirected this summer by Ayckbourn himself in his beloved Scarborough, before arriving in the sister theatre in Stoke. So the cast contains the excellent Scarborough stalwarts John Branwell (if ever an actor was built like the proverbial brick shit house, it’s him) and Sarah Parks who does a fine line in upturned-nose put-downs.There’s a stunning Stoke/Scarborough debut for Rachel Caffrey as the colour-blind, common hairdresser who’s desperate to be approved of and unfortunately unfamiliar with the potency of champagne. When called upon to lose her rag, Miss Caffrey is every truculent temptress you’ve never met. The rumbustious climax of the play is her first date with Adam (which would be the first scene if Mr Ayckbourn wasn’t monkeying around with time so much) and she and a young looking James Powell execute it excruciatingly well. It’s every awkward first date you’ve ever been on – and having previously seen them passionately engaged, it’s achingly funny.
In fact, for once Ayckbourn’s characters and the situations they find themselves in are all totally believable. So it turns out to be a thoughtfully serious study of love, loyalty and family affairs…with brandy-fuelled confessions and explosions of laughter when least expected. He’s just so very good at writing human beings, especially the female variety. It’s impossible not to become personally involved in their little victories and hopeless failings. You’re willing them to win…though Ayckbourn long discovered that failure is funnier.
As the play heads back towards it’s starting point, he reveals his concern that we humans tend not to spot when we’re having the best time of our lives till it’s too late.
So, at the risk of succumbing to Déjà vu, let me reiterate; this really is Ayckbourn at his best!
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