Review of Round and Round the Garden, at the Devonshire Park Theatre, by Roger Paine.
There is pleasing symmetry for Chris Jordan, as artistic director of Eastbourne Theatres and director of this classic comedy, in choosing a play written by Alan Ayckbourn, the Sage of Scarborough, which had its first performance in that popular seaside town in 1974, as this year’s major summer holiday production.
The third play in what is known as the Norman Conquests trilogy it remains very much a play of the time, although this interpretation successfully blows away the cobwebs of 40 years and emerges as invigorating as a walk along the pier or promenade. The story of married serial philanderer, Norman (Charles Davies), who regards any member of the opposite sex, including his sister-in-law Annie (Jo Castleton), and his brother-in-law’s wife Sarah (Natasha Gray), as targets for his amorous attentions and which might, at one time, have had Mary Whitehouse up in arms, no longer raises eyebrows.
Wisely discarding the pretence of highlighting a moral message, often present in Ayckbourn’s work, this is uninhibited farce. More Monty Python or a sketch from The Two Ronnies with the accent on larger than life characters and unlikely situations, not least Norman and Annie coupling in the flowerbeds while their nearest and dearest sit in deckchairs on the lawn.
A warm-hearted sense of the ridiculous is this production’s strength. Extremely British. Extremely amusing. .
Both Kevin Pallister as Reg, Norman’s brother-in-law and a small-town estate agent full of hail-fellow-well-met clichés, and David Partridge as Tom, a well-meaning but clueless vet, with strong resemblance to John Cleese, point up the essence of this comedy. Never better illustrated than when Tom and Norman’s wife, Ruth (Sarah Stanley), get their wires comprehensively crossed at the beginning of Act 2.
As in all good farces, pace and timing are paramount. This performance has them in spades - no pun intended.
The setting in a Sussex country house garden, imaginatively designed and built by Andy Newell, is enhanced with an eye-catching display of real plants and flowers.
As the curtain comes down, a lone deckchair abandoned in the garden at the end of family frolics is a poignant reminder that summer too must one day end.