Review: Taking Steps by Alan Ayckbourn, Stables Theatre, May 16 to 24. By Philip Blurton.
Ayckbourn’s 1979 farce is set in a dilapidated Victorian three-storey house, (The Pines), reputedly a former bordello haunted by a deceased prostitute.
Set directions require that the three floors of the house are represented on stage at a single level. Frank Jenks and Ian Morson’s set design achieved Ayckbourn’s requirements; the rooms looked suitably, if sometimes bizarrely, dilapidated, and all three floors were there for us on one level. The humour of actors moving up and down the levels by miming their ascents and descents worked well, although shouldn’t there be the same number of steps going up as down!
As ever, Ayckbourn’s characters are delightfully inadequate. Roland (Paul Roberts), is a rich, alcoholic businessman living with his third wife, Elizabeth (Sally Ann Lycett), a retired dancer who practiced her “balletic” dance moves to much comic affect. Her brother, Mark (Henri Hayler) is boring everyone to sleep with his dreams of keeping a fishing tackle shop, while his ex-fiancée, Kitty (Sinead Phelps) is accommodated on an emergency basis in the attic. Stumbling into this crumbling world comes Tristram (Keiran Kerswell), a most unlikely solicitor. Kerswell did well at conveying his character’s honest heart while at the same time being unable to communicate anything verbally with clarity. His comic timing was also impressive, drawing much laughter from various compromising shenanigans and attempts to dress at speed. The production’s most touchingly sincere moment was Tristram and Kitty’s meeting of minds and bodies in the attic on discovering that their world views and silent resentments had so much in common. And adding to the madness of the whole piece was Andrew White as Leslie, a Yamaha-driving builder landlord with crash helmet and a focused determination to sell the house.
The cast caught the lack of malice in their characters while at the same time capturing their frustrations and sweetly idiotic incompetence; and whether they wanted to be free of their human ties, debts or loneliness, their misfortunes raised continual laughter. The jazz music that accompanied the play helped to move the action along and added a sophistication that juxtaposed nicely with its intended absence in Ayckbourn’s characters. Thank you director Ian Morson for sharing this off-the-wall vision with a Stables’ audience.