Friday, June 13, 2014

'A Small Family Business' by Alan Ayckbourn

13 June 2014

On Thursday we were at Cineworld in Milton Keynes to see the NT Live broadcast of Adam Penford's National Theatre production of 'A Small Family Business' by Alan Ayckbourn. This performance, live from the stage of the Olivier Theatre in London, was simultaneously broadcast to 1100 cinemas in 40 countries around the world - the largest audience yet for a NT Live screening. We first saw 'A Small Family Business' about 20 years ago in an amateur production at Uppingham Theatre, produced by our friend Brian Stokes who had himself taught the young Ayckbourn. The National Theatre production faithfully recreated 1987 period details which felt all the more real in the close-ups on the cinema screen. The kettle, phone and other household items were incredibly recognisable and nostalgic. Though surrounded by a large cast, this is Nigel Lindsay's play. Lindsay, who we last saw as Henry Bolingbroke in Greg Doran's RSC production of Richard II (reviewed here in December 2013), demonstrated a very believable descent, in the space of the week in which the action of the play takes place, from honest upright citizen to criminal Godfather. There appears to be a rule that all professional productions of Alan Ayckbourn plays have to involve Matthew Cottle. We have seen him in Ayckbourn’s ‘Just Between Ourselves’ at the Theatre Royal in Bath in 2002, in the same play at the Royal Theatre Northampton (reviewed here in May 2009) and in Ayckbourn’s ‘Neighbourhood Watch’ at the Palace Theatre in Watford (reviewed here in March 2012). In the National Theatre production of 'A Small Family Business' Matthew Cottle played the incredibly creepy private detective Benedict Hough - it was an uncomfortably sleezy performance. The other standout performance was Alice Sykes, perfect as the stroppy teenage daughter. Like many of Alan Ayckbourn's plays 'A Small Family Business' starts with the appearance of a straightforward farce but gradually reveals a much darker, more serious tone. The final poignant image, as the lights fade to black, has stuck in my mind from that Uppingham production 20 years ago and was just as affecting this time.

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