10 July 2023
First performed in 2001, Alan Ayckbourn’s trilogy, ‘Damsels in Distress’ was specifically written with repertory theatre in mind. Three plays, one set and seven varying characters in each, providing actors with a range of roles to play. The concept is an excellent one and is, therefore, a perfect choice for the Sidmouth Summer Play Festival. After the original productions of the three in Scarborough, they transferred to the West End where the Producers gave preference to the third play in the series, ‘RolePlay’, causing much consternation amongst the actors and the writer who vowed not to transfer any of his new plays to the West End again!
So, the chance to make up your mind about this curiosity is placed before audiences again. There is no dispute that the subject matter of this, the first play in the trilogy, is not typical Ayckbourn; in order to help her mother out of financial difficulties, 16 year old Sorrel decides to set herself up as a prostitute at home while Mum, Lynette, is working. Persuading her best friend to act as her maid, things don’t go quite as planned.
The rather sombre tone of the first couple of scenes is somewhat uncomfortable; there are comic moments, but this is Ayckbourn in dark mode; throwing up issues of single parenting, divorce, infidelity and the bursting of the Dot-Com bubble. The mood changes radically as Sorrel entertains her first client, Leo and chaos ensues.
At the heart of the play is the relationship between Lynette and her daughter; Claire Louise Amias, in the most serious role of the play, is excellent and Liv Koplick is terrific as the feisty, moody, teenager Sorrel; the two are completely believable as parent and child. Laura Mead, as Sorrel’s friend Kelly, provides many of the comedy moments throughout and, at times, appears to be channelling the great Barbara Windsor as she totters about on high heels – a tremendous debut at the Summer Play Festival.
James Pellow offers a masterclass in comic acting as Leo – his lengthy speech about his wife and dry- cleaning business is sublimely hilarious. Dominic McChesney creates a wonderfully over-the-top police officer with Julia Main, joyfully bonkers as the Bible-quoting WPC; these two should have a show of their own. The tiny role of the magazine reporter is a strange one, almost like a last minute thought by the writer – but, Owen Landon, as always, gives it everything.
Director, Anton Tweedale, takes this really tricky play and creates a production which is just about impossible to fault; it is slick, pacey and, wherever the script allows, very funny.
Regular visitors to the Play Festival will be used to Andrew Beckett’s sublime set designs and this one, representing an apartment overlooking the River Thames in London, is a cracker – you wonder how so much can fit on such a small stage and still leave room to act; another master craftsman at work.
‘GamePlan’ is an intriguing piece; it feels uneven and with issues in its construction; it also doesn’t really know what it is meant to be – Comedy? Drama? Tragedy? Thriller? Social Commentary? – maybe all of these. It isn’t a particularly likeable play in some ways, but when a production is this good it is so worth seeing so you really can make your own mind up!
The play runs until 15 July and tickets are available at www.manorpavilion.com. Next week the Alan Ayckbourn trilogy continues with ‘FlatSpin’ from 17-22 July.
CAST & CREATIVES
SORREL SAXON – LIV KOPLICK
LYNETTE SAXON – CLAIRE LOUIS AMIAS
KELLY BUTCHER – LAURA MEAD
LEO TYLER – JAMES PELLOW
DAN ENDICOTT – DOMINIC MCCHESNEY
GRACE PAGE – JULIA MAIN
TROY STEPHENS – OWEN LANDON
WRITER – ALAN AYCKBOURN
DIRECTOR – ANTON TWEEDALE
DESIGN – ANDREW BECKETT
LIGHTING & SOUND OPERATION & DESIGN – STAGE TECH SERVICES
COSTUME SUPERVISOR – JAN HUCKLE & PHOEBE FLEETHAM
SET BUILDERS – HENRY HAYWARD, JAMES PRENDERGAST
SET ASSISTANT – DOMINIC MCCHESNEY
DEPUTY STAGE MANAGER – DANIEL SAINT
PHOTO CREDIT – OWEN LANDON
ARTISTIC DIRECTOR – PAUL TAYLOR-MILLS
SEASON ASSOCIATE PRODUCER – ANDREW BECKETT