King’s Theatre, Edinburgh
“Did we win? Our side?” asks Deborah Grant’s crazed Theresa May-in-waiting Helen amidst the chaos of a historical re-enactment that collapses into civil war towards the end of Alan Ayckbourn’s 1977 play. Brexit may have been but a twinkle in every little Britisher’s eye when Ayckbourn premiered his dissection of how civic democracy can be subverted. It doesn’t take an inner lobby pundit, however, to work out why long-standing Ayckbournista Robin Herford’s revival for the Bill Kenwright produced Classic Comedy Theatre Company’s inaugural tour has appeared right now.
Things begin innocently enough in the garish old-school ballroom of the Swan Hotel, where a committee has convened to plan a grassroots folk festival designed to boost both morale and local community coffers. These days, the likes of artists Jeremy Deller and Bill Drummond would be reclaiming and reinventing such ancient rites. At the helm here, alas, is Robert Daws’ Ray, Helen’s ditheringly diplomatic other half. His attempts to steer things are offset by Mark Curry’s by-the-book local councillor Donald as well as the more insurrectionary intent of Craig Gazey’s power-hungry proto Corbynista Eric, who tempts Gemma Oaten’s Sophie into the fold.
With battle-lines drawn across increasingly polarised extremes, the ballroom plays host to fall-outs, factions and secret meetings that eventually give way to an attempt at a very British coup led by ex-army man Tim. His gung-ho fantasies of military glory look troublingly familiar, even as they are acted out against a backdrop of drunk dignitaries gathered round the old joanna. And then there is the silent majority, which arrives in the form of Eric’s live-in spouse Philippa. As played by Rhiannon Handy with comically put-upon resignation, she remains the one holding everything together, even if she never finds her voice enough to stand up to both sides of the divide. As Ray gleefully realises at the end, this battle may be lost, but there are plenty of wars to win yet.
The Herald, January 5th 2020