Whenever I see the word 'farce', I'm reminded of the Brian Rix Whitehall farces which I endured with my family as a child. Usually there was a scene when Rix lost his trousers at some point, which always seemed to cause raucous bouts of laughter to erupt. Strange times.
A title like 'Bedroom Farce' might easily have come from the pen of Rix himself, but it was actually written in 1975 by Alan Ayckbourn as a result of a request from the then National Theatre director, Peter Hall who is also in charge of this revival. Originally, Hall co-directed the play with Ayckbourn for the National.
The unique setting for this play – as one might expect from the title – is that the action takes place in three bedrooms which are all visible on stage at the same time. The focus moves from bedroom to bedroom as the story unfolds over one night and the following morning. Bedroom one is the domain of Ernest and Delia, an older couple who are more thrilled by the idea of eating sardines on toast in bed, than doing anything more romantic. In bedroom 2, Malcolm and Kate are preparing for a party, and bedroom three is where Nick is laid-up with a bad back and his long-suffering wife, Jan, has to minister to his needs. Tying together the three bedrooms and their respective couples is the final husband and wife team, Susannah and Trevor who are having marital problems.
Original though the setting might be, it does stretch believability when all the action has to take place in bedrooms. But that doesn't grate as much as it might, probably because the play moves along at a brisk pace and is relatively short.
This revival is well-cast, providing the necessary contrast between the marital couplings. David Horovitch as Ernest is a kind of bank manager of the 50s – almost a Captain Mainwaring from the BBC series 'Dad's Army'. Ernest worries obsessively about damp and the guttering. In contrast, wife Delia (Jenny Seagrove) is sensibly realistic, but positively Victorian in her attitude to sex. Sara Crowe is the long-suffering Jan who has to deal with carping husband Nick (Tony Gardner) who only wants an answer to the question 'Why me?'. Daniel Betts as Malcolm wants his party to go with a swing and, when it doesn't, resorts to DIY with unfortunate results. Finty Williams is Malcolm's down-to-earth wife Kate, who manages to put her foot in it by suggesting her hubby is boring in bed. Orlando Seale as Trevor is like a whimpering puppy when he finds himself without a place to stay for the night, and Rachel Pickup chants affirmations endlessly to bolster her flagging self-confidence as Susannah.
Having been in existence for over 30 years, you might think that this play had passed the end of its playable life. After all, times have changed since the gaudy days of the 70s, and at a pace that would suggest a play like this would fail to meet the tastes of modern audiences. However, it doesn't seem to have dated that much really – apart, perhaps, from the wallpaper in the bedrooms. But I sensed a divide among the audience – a few seemed to find it hilarious while the majority were more muted in their appreciation. I found bits were still funny but not consistently so.
Don't expect any serious philosophical comments about the state of marriage as an institution or about sexual relationships in general. In fact, it's not so much a farce as a fairly straight forward comedy - even Ayckbourn described it as a 'jolly' play and that is basically what it is. Jolly, but unremarkable.
"It’s a treat."
Benedict Nightingale for The Times
"Efficient production ."
Henry Hitchings's for The Evening Standard
"A lot of nicely judged situation comedy."
Susan Elkin's for The Stage
"This is a pure treat of an evening out."
Quentin Letts for The Daily Mail
External links to full reviews from popular press