Review: Bedroom Farce – New Wolsey Theatre, Ipswich

To sleep, perchance to dream. Though in Alan Ayckbourn’s Bedroom Farce there’s little chance of sleep. In three bedrooms, across one night, recriminations and repercussions keeps the occupants awake most of the night.

In one, Kate and Malcolm are getting ready for a housewarming party, a second sees Jan getting ready to attend that party, while husband Nick is confined to bed with a back injury. In the third Delia and Ernest are getting ready for their anniversary dinner. Delia and Ernest’s son, Trevor, is also attending the party with his wife Susannah. Trevor and Susannah’s marital difficulties will become the catalyst for an interrupted night in all three houses.

Bedroom farce, first seen in 1975, is typical Ayckbourn fare, taking the everyday and injecting it with dark humour. The title farce is somewhat misleading, there’s no split second timing in and out of doors here, just a subtle reveal of the overlap between all four couples. It’s also a subtle comedy, lines here are more likely to get a titter rather than raucous laughter.

Foxton’s three bedroomed set impresses, clearly delineating the generational and income differences between the houses. Delia and Ernest ensconced in floral furnishing – despite their leaking roof. Bedbound Nick is surrounded by boutique hotel luxury while Kate and Malcolm’s messy room shows signs of various mid-progress DIY projects.

Peter Rowe’s production makes full use of the set but sometimes misses the dramatic beat. Direction though often seems languid and in need of an injection of pace. While the comedy should grow naturally out of the situation, here it often seems stifled and self-conscious. At times the company seem uncomfortable with their characters and lack conviction in the power of the material.

There’s nice chemistry between Christopher Ettridge and Susan Bovell as Ernest and Delia, while Barnaby Power and Chloe Howman hint at the underlying fragility of Nick and Jan’s relationship.

The remaining two couples are somewhat more problematic. Richard Elis gives a nicely observed physical performance but would benefit from toning down his Malcolm, whose manic rage seems at odds with the low key nature of the remainder of the company. Leanne Jones’ never really gives a glimpse beneath the surface of Kate, or what drives her and at times suffers from projection issues. There are similar issues with Sophie Roberts supposedly neurotic Susannah and disturbed husband Trevor (Tom Turner), both of who struggle to give depth to the roles, despite some well observed comic moments. It makes for a slightly unbalanced piece, with some comic touches at the expense of character development.

It’s by no means a failure of an evening, and there’s much fun to be had in the absurdity of the situation and the growing overlapping of chaotic lives. Ayckbourn’s script still offers a wry look at the truths that hide behind bedroom doors and there are many moments of uncomfortable recognition for the audience.

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