Review: Joking Apart - Union Theatre, Southwark

 Having confessed to my friend that I was an Alan Ayckbourn virgin, so to speak, I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect as I found myself on the way to the theatre last night. Hosted by the Union Theatre – a delightful little space hidden away behind the most charming café near Southwark tube – this play tells the story of four couples. It captures them at four main events across a twelve-year period, giving a snapshot of how their lives and relationships develop.

The first thing that strikes me about Ayckbourn’s writing is how deeply human it is. Each character was believably written (and acted!) and each one could be related to someone whom you already know. The  ‘perfect’ couple, Richard and Anthea represent life’s ‘winners’ with the other characters presumably making up life’s ‘losers’. Without giving too much away in terms of plot, the central theme is to expose the fragile world of friendship, where behind the façade of social meet and greets lies a darker underworld of bitching, backstabbing and jealousy.

The acting is of the highest standard London has to offer, I could easily sing the praises of each actor in turn. Jamie Richards plays the delightfully timid yet wildcard vicar ‘Hugh’ that contrasts perfectly with Monica Bertel’s anxiously neurotic ‘Louise’. Claire Marlowe also holds her own as the likeable and empathetic ‘Anthea’. However it is Andrew Obeney’s ‘Sven’ who makes a lasting impression – A competitive ‘know it all’ with a desperate sense of ambition but yet is played with such a wonderful vulnerability that you can’t help but warm to him.

The lighting and use of set is highly imaginative. The beginning bonfire night scene is conducted exceptionally well and the tennis court scene is done to perfection. There are genuine laugh out loud moments and there is a sense that a lot of thought has gone into the production. The wardrobe alone deserves a round of applause, not only for the authentic flow of fashion through the 70s to early 80s but also for the most amazing Christmas jumpers known to man…

One of the best-written and most wonderful plays I have seen all year. Not a bad word to say against it and a great night out that is perfect for the Christmas period.

Joking Apart runs until 14th January 2012

Review by Melissa Phillips