Put us on the naughty step, confiscate our refreshments and spank our bottoms with the collected works of Caryl Churchill, why don’t you?
We’ve been a little wayward: we dropped in on the first preview of this revival of Alan Ayckbourn‘s A Chorus of Disapproval. Of course if we like it no one will give two hoots. No-one complained when we raved about One Man, Two Guvnors after the first preview.
Phil has happy memories – the fact he has any memory is something akin to achievement itself – of the National production with the appealing combo platter of Gambon and Staunton (with Bob Peck and a side order of Gemma Craven), but that was many moons ago.
Times change and we haven’t exactly warmed to the proliferation of Ayckbourns of late. But a lack of coinciding diary windows and interesting casting influenced our risk assessment and fortunately neither Whinger has seen Michael Winner’s allegedly dreadful 1988 film version.
ACOD sees an innocent, awkward and dull young widower, Guy Jones (Nigel Harman) enthusiastically enrol into the Pendon Amateur Light Operatic Society (PALOS) working his way up through the ranks (in both senses) from one-line role to the lead, whilst entertaining some of the female cast members along the way. You can’t please all of the people all of the time but Guy attempts to and fails.
We’ve previously found the disappointments and frustrations of middle class couples a bit over-nurtured by Ayckbourn and wobbling dangerously into sub-Terry and June territory (and there are moments when we still do), but the set-up here is solid (unlike the sets), the excerpts performed from PALOS’s production of John Gay‘s The Beggar’s Opera cleverly – yet never over-emphatically – parallel the plot and we found ourselves chuckling along, sometimes out loud. Perhaps we’ve gone full circle and finally held the mirror of disappointments and frustrations of middle class couples up to ourselves?
Initially some of it was a little clunky at times (first preview caveats and all that, no doubt director Trevor Nunn will knock it into shape if not a little off the running time) but not in the performances. Harman wears the part and some rather nasty knitwear (Gyles Brandreth uncredited?) splendidly with an amusingly endearing and believable naïvety.
The big draw, of course, is Rob Brydon as the über-Welsh, cuckolded PALOS director Dafydd ap Llewellyn and we’re pleased to report he’s completely up to speed at this early stage. If you like Brydon you’ll like him here, getting big laughs, sometimes with the merest inflection on a line and a good workout chasing around the auditorium (who knew directors have to be this fit? We’ll be looking out for Sir Trev in Rio in 4 years time) though we feel we must have a word with Brydon about that beard. Though perhaps this is another in-joke?
Ashley Jensen (Extras, Ugly Betty) quietly underplays Hannah, Dafydd’s sexually frustrated wife to great effect. She frequently looks as if she’s on the brink of the brink of tears. Daisy Beaumont is the superbly vampish company member Fay with a penchant for swinging who hilariously seduces Guy with Day-Glo cocktails in a scene peppered with enjoyably daffy misunderstandings.
Ayckbourn’s bleak outlook seems to be that no one can remain innocent and however hard you try to please you’ll be misunderstood or corrupted by those around you and we’ll bear that in mind.
So from our naughty step then, a duet of approval from the innocent and oft misunderstood Whingers.