Round and Round the Garden which has opened the Mill at Sonning’s autumn season, is as perceptive and humorous now as it was when it was written forty years ago.
Comedy is a difficult genre and something written in the 1970s is often creaky and past its sell-by date in 2015. Not so here.
Alan Ayckbourn’s power of observation, particularly of relationships, is something that everybody can recognise – and laugh at. Not belly laughs necessarily, just a gentle chuckle to acknowledge that these fictional situations might actually exist.
And while this play may lack the expletives and four letter words used willy-nilly today, it is still bang on message with its insight into middle class morals and mores.
The play, the final part of Ayckbourn’s popular Norman Conquests trilogy, is set over a weekend in the garden of a house in Sussex. (The other two plays show the same story from the perspective of the dining and living rooms.)
It doesn’t have quite the emotional kick of the first, Table Manners, nor does it convey the same chaos and family trauma. However, it continues the theme, albeit in a more restrained manner.
Central to it all, is larger-than-life, self-styled sexpot Norman who is planning a dirty weekend away with his sister-in-law Annie. While she is away (seemingly alone), Annie has asked her bossy sister Sarah and ineffectual husband Reg to stay and look after their demanding mother.
All hell is let loose when Norman turns up early, is rebuffed by Annie and tries to find solace on the patio with Sarah and then, for good measure, with his buttoned-up wife Ruth (Annie and Sarah’s sister) who turns up unexpectedly.
Director Abigail Anderson has drawn together a great cast who threw themselves into Ayckbourn’s dysfunctional coterie with gusto. A wild-haired and bearded James Wallace was a perfect and extremely convincing Norman, a sexual athlete who just wants to get his leg over wherever he can, regardless of any hurt and repercussions in the process – until he gets his comeuppance big time.
The rest of the team worked well together. Susannah Harker and Harry Gostelow as Sarah and Reg) and Sarah Edwardson as work-obsessed Ruth. Nelly Harker was a lovely put-upon Annie and Chris Porter was great as gauche and commitment-phobe Tom.
Runs till November 21.