ALAN AYCKBOURN’s Taking Steps is what I’d describe as a classy farce. There’s the usual mix of confusion, mistaken identities
ALAN AYCKBOURN’s Taking Steps is what I’d describe as a classy farce. There’s the usual mix of confusion, mistaken identities and some bedroom shenanigans but, thankfully, it shies away from cardboard cut-out characters continually dropping their trousers to reveal snazzy boxers and knee-high suspendered socks. OK, perhaps in a nod to the genre, one character does end up with his trousers round his knees, but he still has his pyjamas on underneath.
The play, directed by Ian Masters, is set in a large Victorian house — a former brothel — with all three storeys portrayed on the same level with make-believe stairs linking each.
The result is that we see the actors taking imaginary steps up and down staircases and along passages as they move between living room, bedroom and attic. The furniture of one room is cleverly intermingled with that of another — at first glance it appears as if the bedroom’s dressing table is actually in the lounge — and the trick is that the actors don’t bump into each other when the action is in two rooms at the same time.
Metaphorically, the characters are taking steps too. Frustrated and repressed, former dancer (more go-go than ballet) Elizabeth, well played by Natalie Ogle, is taking steps to leave her boozy, bullying, rich husband Roland (fine portrayal by David McAlister) who, in turn, is taking steps to buy the rambling mansion from Harry Gostelow’s jovial builder and biker, Leslie, who is himself just a step away from bankruptcy.
Elizabeth’s brother Mark (Nick Waring), so boring he sends everyone, including himself, to sleep, is trying to get it back together with his ditzy fiancée Kitty (Catherine Skinner) who jilted him at the altar and has just been hauled in by the police for soliciting (a plot strand, sadly, not fully expanded).
Into this mix comes tongue-tied Tristan, a gauche and gormless solicitor, there to sort out the legalities of the house sale. Naive, eager to please and prey to misunderstanding, this character, beautifully downplayed by Ross Hatt, somehow ends up in bed with two women, one of whom he believes to be the homicidal resident ghost, the lovely Scarlet Lucy.
Unlike traditional farces, don’t expect to be giggling and falling about in your seats from the beginning. This play is slow-burning, gradually building up to the laughs which come, not just from physical tomfoolery, but from Ayckbourn’s typical witty humour and shrewd insight into relationships. And don’t expect everything to be neatly packaged up in the final dénouement. As with all Ayckbourn’s plays, there is a twist.
lTo March 23. Box office: 0118 969 8000 or visit www.millatsonning.com