GAMEPLAN & ROLEPLAY
PITLOCHRY FESTIVAL THEATRE
Review by Mark Brown
The late theatre critic Kenneth Tynan once accused Harold Pinter of being “frivolous, even when he is being serious”. It was a harsh judgement, and one better suited to Alan Ayckbourn’s nominally “dark” comic trilogy Damsels in Distress (which is currently being staged at Pitlochry Festival Theatre).
As GamePlan and RolePlay (which played as a double bill on Saturday and, along with FlatSpin, make up the 2001 trilogy) attest, the dramas are more successful as modern farces than as social commentaries.
Although each play in the trilogy is distinct, they were written to be performed by the same cast, led by the same director, on the same set. These requirements are fulfilled as assiduously at Pitlochry as they were at Ayckbourn’s Stephen Joseph Theatre in Scarborough, where they premiered 15 years ago.
Richard Baron directs the same talented, seven-strong cast in all three plays. Ken Harrison’s stage design provides a convincingly detailed approximation of a swanky apartment in London’s soulless Docklands.
Ayckbourn has spoken of his concern to get the balance right in his play writing between “substance” and “fun”. In the cases of these dramas, there is rarely a danger that the weight of social concerns is going to overwhelm the lightness of the comedy.
In GamePlan, 16-year-old Sorrel (played brilliantly by Kirsty Mackay), faced with the collapse of both her parents’ company and their marriage, decides to try to avert financial disaster by going into prostitution. Yet, from Sorrel’s dippy friend Kelly to a Bible-quoting WPC, the play is mainly populated by two-dimensional comic caricatures.
It isn’t difficult to see why RolePlay, which is set during young couple Julie-Ann and Justin’s ill-fated dinner party, has met with particular critical acclaim. With its coming together of former lapdancer Paige Petite (Gemma McElhinney on great form) with such comic grotesques as Justin’s posh, alcoholic mother and Julie-Ann’s 19th hole bigot father, it is the more complete farce.
One of the purposes of this trilogy is to exhibit the virtuosity of an ensemble of actors. In both GamePlan and RolePlay the Pitlochry cast delivers in spades.
However, one can’t help but raise an eyebrow at Ayckbourn’s claims to serious intent. With more signposts than the M1, these plays lack the subtlety required to be truly meaningful social dramas. What they are, however, is well-crafted, 21st-century drawing room comedies.
GamePlan and RolePlay play various dates until October 12 and 13, respectively. For details, visit: pitlochryfestivaltheatre.com
This review was originally published on the website of the Daily Telegraph on July 13, 2016
© Mark Brown