The Tabard Theatre’s production of Time of My Life, Alan Ayckbourn’s acclaimed comedy, is a cosy affair, with the detailed restaurant set making the space look warm and bright. The play opens with the background Italian music being broken by a chorus of raucous midlands accents, interrupting any serious moment the couple seated onstage might have been trying to have. It sets the tone for the play – the audience already laughing before a single word of clear dialogue has been said. This is increasingly common as the play progresses. It is a production where humour is found just as much in visual cues as it is in the script.
The action in the play revolves around the events leading up to and stemming from the mother’s fateful birthday party at the local Italian restaurant. The time jumps in the play are illustrated through spotlighting different sections of the stage, a simple technique that works well. Laura and Gerry (Joanna Pope and David Lucas), the mother and father, are not frozen whilst the focus is elsewhere, although conversation from other characters makes it clear they are not present. Their background movement draws the eye away from the main action on occasion, emphasising the extent to which the parents have a knock-on effect on almost everything their sons do. Near the end of the play the lights come up and three scenes run in tandem, creating a sense of the inevitable, unstoppable collision of events.
The time jumps also mean the audience is in the know from very near the start of the play, a dramatic irony which leads to numerous comedic moments, helped on its way by excellent comic timing from all members of the cast. However, this emphasis on the humour of the piece does mean that, on occasion, the pathos is lost, and some of Ayckbourn’s commentary on society and relationships seems a little swept away. Tansy Adair (who plays Stephanie, the daughter-in-law) reverses this trend with her touching attempt to keep up a façade of normality in the face of utter heartbreak.
Lucas shines as the initially-affable Jerry, his increasingly tense body language particularly admirable, but unfortunately Pope is rather a weak link, stumbling lines throughout the performance. This could be symptomatic of the rehearsal method, where the script was added in at the last moment, or it could be press-night nerves, but it rather ruins the effect of complete immersion in several scenes. Lucy Formby as new girlfriend Maureen is full of spunk and the occasional moment of anxiety, with wonderfully kooky costumes that are almost a performance in themselves.
However, the clear audience favourite is Adam Wittek, whose wonderful multirole as a whole series of Italian waiters steals the show. He is clearly soaking up the adulation, however, and this does lead to a few over-the-top moments.
This is a fun-filled production of the Ayckbourn classic, even if frequent repetitions of ‘you’re driving’ can get a little wearing – perhaps there should be a little more faith in the audience’s ability to understand the significance of little moments. The script’s power is in its observations of family life, and the relationships between actors are smooth and believable – perhaps, in future productions, this could be utilised more.
- By Alan Ayckbourn
- Directed by Law Ballard
- Cast includes: David Lucas, Joanna Pope, Joe Leather, Tansy Adair
- The Tabard Theatre, London
- Until 28 March 2015
- Time: 19:30, Saturday matinees 15:30
- Review by Rebecca Coates
- 5 March 2015