Wednesday, March 14, 2012

'Neighbourhood Watch' by Alan Ayckbourn

14 March 2012

For some of us Matthew Cottle will always be the weedy ginger-haired one in the Andrew Davies sitcom ‘Game On’, but more recently he seems to have been specialising in the work of Alan Ayckbourn. When we saw Ayckbourn’s ‘Just Between Ourselves’ at the Royal Theatre Northampton in May 2009, I realised we had seen Cottle play the same part in a 2002 production of the play at the Theatre Royal in Bath. Last Saturday we were at the Palace Theatre in Watford to see the original Stephen Joseph Theatre Scarborough production of Alan Ayckbourn’s latest play ‘Neighbourhood Watch’ with Matthew Cottle as Martin. This is Ayckbourn’s 75th professionally produced full length play and a very good example of his work. As usual with Ayckbourn there is a simple, single set – a domestic setting that would be easy for an amateur theatre company to reproduce. The action takes place in a middle class home where new residents Martin and his sister Hilda help to establish a neighbourhood watch scheme. Initially this seems very similar to the Esmonde and Larbey sitcom ‘Ever Decreasing Circles’ but there is always a darker side to Ayckbourn’s comedy and soon the neighbourhood watch is taken to extremes that veer closer to martial law. It’s a very funny, poignant and nicely observed play. Ayckbourn’s characters are slightly cartoony versions of reality but eminently recognisable: not least amongst the play’s audience!

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