Still Life / Between Mouthfuls - Review

The 2005-6 season ended with an interesting double bill with a common theme of infidelity.

Each piece also shared a similar genesis. Still Life formed part of the six short plays that made up Noel Coward's Tonight at 8.30, whilst Between Mouthfuls came from Alan Ayckbourn's five piece work, Confusions.

As one play was set in a restaurant and the other in a railway station buffet it is perhaps permissible to use culinary terms to describe each offering.

Between Mouthfuls was a light frothy piece, a Bonne Amusee, that served as an appetizer to the main fare of the evening, the more meaty Still Life.

As with most of Ayckbourn's plays a theatrical device is employed. In this case the dialogue of the two couples dining in the restaurant is only audible when the waiter is serving them.

As both couples are having blazing rows the effect is quite comic with the waiter being quietly solicitous and ignoring the discord. The waiter was nicely underplayed by Keiran Burke who maintained the necessary deadpan air throughout.

As the cheated wife, Pat Boxall, was chillingly icy yet at the same time managed to convey the seething rage within herself. Tom Robinson played her adulterous husband - all pomposity and rudeness.

True to all farces, circumstances dictate that the other woman just happens to be dining at the same restaurant with her cuckolded husband. Consternation arises as her adulterous partner is also her husband's boss. Laura Bennett was suitably flustered and resentful at the toadiness and chauvinism of her husband, played by Jonny Hume, who continues to amaze with his versatility.

Continuing NV's policy of encouraging new talent, Chris Nunn was entrusted with the task of directing and made a good start. It promises well for the future.

I particularly enjoyed the theatrical in-joke of naming the restaurant The Poison Ivy!

During the interval the restaurant was converted into the railway buffet - a transformation that was most realistic and, for those of us of a certain age, brought a touch of nostalgia to the evening. One almost smelt hot Bovril and tasted curled up sandwiches!

The classic film Brief Encounter owes its origins to Noel Coward's short play, Still Life.

Although set in the post-war period it was played straight, without a hint of parody. Gone were the clipped tones of voice that one remembered from the film and in their place were characters in this love story that were believable to a modern audience.

As well as the doomed love affair of the middle class Laura and the doctor who meet by accident in a railway refreshment room, the play is counter pointed with two periphery relationships – young love and late love.

Alex Childs was astonishing as Laura, managing as she did to convey through looks and body language both the naivety and the strength of her love as well as the angst of the illicit relationship.

Her lover, Alec, well played by John Adam came across as a less sympathetic character is, due more to the writing I suspect rather than the performance.

Although the relationship started off as an idealistic love match it came across that the idealism was very much one-sided. Alec seemed to be using Laura, taking advantage of her naivety and was quick to drop her when the overseas job comes up.

There was a truly comic portrayal from Laura Bennett as the ghastly friend, Dolly, who interrupted the couple's last moments together.

The whole production was sheer delight with strong performances from the rest of an excellent cast and directed with a sensitive touch.

Barrie Jerram
16 August 2006