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Posted by : Timothy Ramsden on Aug 16, 2005 - 06:43 PM Scotland

by Alan Ayckbourn

Pitlochry Festival Theatre In rep to 22 October 2005
Mon-Sat 8pm Mat Wed & Sat 2pm
Runs One interval

TICKETS 01796 484626
Review: Timothy Ramsden 17 August

Production concept limits impact, but there's still enough to enjoy.
Actors say they need to find what's sympathetic in their character, be it Iago, Richard III or Frankenstein's Monster (easiest of the 3). It must have made Jacqueline Dutoit's job tough in Pitlochry's revival of Alan Ayckourn's comedy about a self-assured single businesswoman who lets her basement and upper-storey, only to find herself sandwiched in a mix of messy desires that wreck her flat, friendship and career.

Ayckbourn's true to his title; this is about love - the need for it, its inevitability and its lack of consideration, amid passion and desire, need and longing, for logic or social responsibilities.

Dutoit's job in gaining sympathy isn't made easier by playing soneone with a hatred of Scots people. In excellent revivals at Northanpton and Harrogate, this line has produced a laugh. At Pitlochry, laughter comes with hisses and snarls that, in a less polite environment, might well presage a lynching.

Much more importantly, Benjamin Twist's production plays Barbara - the literally central character - as a prissily frigid spinster whose sexual frustration comes out in lip-curling derision and unacknowledged self-hate.

It makes for some clear and comic moments. But in the end (long before the end, actually) it's restrictive, making for a uni-dimension character. That's someone an audience will judge rather than follow with interest and it's only when bodices face ripping that the character becomes more sympathetic. By when the sour Barbara's been marked-out by sour-looking negativity.

The production's less severe on her old (and slightly younger) school-friend Nikki, still harking back to the school song and days when she was cocooned in a protective system with Barbara as role-model. It makes her ultimate betrayal by the older woman, blasting open the new cocoon Nikki's built, following an abusive relationship, with oh-so-nice Hamish.

Helen Logan's Nikki has a ready-made victim's vulnerability and innocence leading finally to momentary fury and eventual destruction. Dougal Lee's Hamish is never quite the person she believes in; he's clearly someone lacking in self-control for all the vegetarian purity and tall, dark, handsome sense of authority.

Richard Addison, in suitably unbelievable wig, is fine as Gilbert the besotted, hopeless postman painting out his dark desires in the cellar, another lost soul. The climax's eruption is well-managed and the 3-tier setting (ironically Ayckbourn, most prolific and successful writer for theatre-in-the-round, has written the most conspicuous example here of a play that can't be performed that way) successfully gives slivers of each storey on Pitlochry's limited-height stage.

Barbara: Jacqueline Dutoit
Nikki: Helen Logan
Hamish: Dougal Lee
Gilbert: Richard Addison

Director: Benjamin Twist
Designer: Ken Harrison
Lighting: Jeanine Davies
Costume: Anya Glinski
Fight director: Raymond Short
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