A flash of metaphorical lightning is sometimes all it takes for your whole world to be turned upside down. So it is with Arnold, the haplessly under-achieving host of a small town creative writing group in Alan Ayckbourn's sixty-ninth play, first seen in 2005. For much of the first act Arnold is almost painfully nice to the disparate community who come together in his crumbling old house to share what they've not written, even as it provides respite from their assorted real world problems.
With Arnold's young work-mate Ilsa looking after his ailing mother upstairs, inspiration is in short supply for all. Like a toyshop after dark, however, when Arnold appears to have closed the door on his guests for the night, only then does the imagination run riot as an entire pulp fiction factory bursts from a sea of unpublished pages that never made it out of their creators' heads.
What follows in Clare Prenton's dexterously managed production is an ingenious series of fantasy wish fulfilment set-pieces involving an assortment of comic-strip style pot-boilers and a dazzling array of quick-fire costume changes. Yet for all the play's increasingly madcap ridiculousness, there are some serious points being made here about artifice, truth and the blurred lines between both. This is personified by Arnold, played by Ronnie Simon with an increasingly befuddled sense of inner despair that won't allow him to take a leap into the unknown. With the rest of Prenton's six-strong cast hamming things up to the max, and with Claire-Marie Seddon's Ilsa seemingly forever out of reach, for Arnold, alas, make-believe is as good as it gets.
The Herald, July 3rd 2015