Monday, 23 April 2012

Theatre review: Neighbourhood Watch

There's nothing worse than an annoying neighbour - I should know, I had Vanessa sitting next to me at the latest Alan Ayckbourn play. (Well I say the latest; it premiered late last year so he's probably written another three by now. The amount of plays he's credited with increases the further into the programme you get.) Ayckbourn also directs Neighbourhood Watch, a rather dark little satire about middle class paranoia and prejudice getting out of control. A middle-aged, virginal brother and sister, Martin and Hilda (Memorable Actor Matthew Cottle and Alexandra Mathie) have just moved into a new house in a leafy suburb. Somewhere in the distance is a housing estate, demonised by the locals as the source of unimaginable evils. When they invite the new neighbours round for a housewarming, their horror stories of violent crimes that could theoretically happen lead Martin to start a Neighbourhood Watch scheme; and when his beloved garden gnome gets broken, he's angered into extreme measures.

Its deceptively cosy opening leads into some surprisingly dark areas as Neighbourhood Watch turns the suburb first into a gated community (complete with razor wire,) then into a miniature police state, with a stocks on the mini-roundabout and curtain-twitching turning into a Stalinist surveillance culture. It's funny and well-cast, I really liked Frances Grey as the overly-sexed Amy who by the community's new standards is treated like the Whore of Babylon. Vanessa enjoyed the way Ayckbourn's exaggerated version of a community based on Daily Mail values was only barely surreal, worryingly close to being plausible.

On a separate note, tonight we witnessed a form of audience rudeness entirely new to me: The Tricycle has an unreserved seating policy, with the audience queuing outside before the doors open; but they do a small amount of reserved seats on request, for a fee. Tonight a large corporate outing decided to bypass that, printed their own reservation notes, and left one person at the front of the queue with them, who when the doors opened promptly papered 3/4 of the seats in the front two rows. So the ushers kept sending people to these empty seats that should have been free, only to have them turned away because they were "reserved." Eventually an usher came to find out why people kept getting turned back, and (more politely than they deserved) asked that in future they actually consult with the theatre management before putting notices up.

Neighbourhood Watch by Alan Ayckbourn is booking until the 5th of May at the Tricycle Theatre.

Running time: 2 hours 40 minutes including interval.

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