Prolific playwright Sir Alan Ayckbourn is at his innovative best with his 88th work given its world premier in the Lake District this week. The Premier was at the Old Laundry Theatre in Bowness-on-Windermere, where the near-capacity 280-strong audience lapped up the humour.
He takes an age-old theme – an intended being introduced to potential parents-in-law – and gives it a bang up to date, nay futuristic, twist.
Welcome to the Family
In the play Welcome to the Family, the in-laws have been dead for ten years and only exist inside a device known as ‘The Capture’.
Their son’s girlfriend meets the deceased aristocratic couple five years before their tragic demise in a plane crash, 15 years before the time the play is set, which is a few years in the future.
If that sounds confusing, don’t worry. All becomes very clear as the play unfolds, partly due to Sir Alan’s wonderful writing and partly due to a gifted company of five actors. Think of a three-dimensional video game, into which the live humans can immerse themselves and interact with the avatars.
This device enables Sir Alan to lift a traditional comedy of human relationships into an exploration of how people may interact with the metaverse in the very near future and what impact is may have on our psyches. It also enables him to have fun with generational, gender and class clashes.
Antony Eden as the central naïve former public school boy Josh Meizner and Tanya-Loretta Dee, as his intended Sara Coote, from the opposite end of the social scale, manage to set up the intricate plot premise with aplomb.
But the play really comes to life when they, and we, are introduced to Sir Peter Meizner, played by Terence Booth, and particularly Caroline Langrishe, as Lady Vivica Meizner. They turn out to be the archetypal in-laws from hell.
The company is completed by Bill Champion as Lance Meizner, the suitably smarmy inventor of The Capture.
To explain how the humans interact with the avatars and the plot unfolds would spoil enjoyment of the play, but suffice to say confusion reigns, especially as the long-dead couple start to show signs of starting to realise, and get angry, at what is going on.
Sir Alan Ayckbourn
Last year Sir Alan premiered All Lies at the Old Laundry, the first time in 35 years that one of his plays had not been launched outside his base at Scarborough. That play dealt with fake news and the pandemic. The way lies can complicate relationships is reprieved as a theme in Welcome to the Family with even more devastating impact.
Sir Alan has a close association with The Old Laundry Theatre, which is a theatre-in-the-round like Scarborough’s Stephen Joseph. Roger Glossop, the set designer for Welcome to the Family and All Lies, and a director of The Old Laundry Theatre, has been regularly designing sets for Alan Ayckbourn’s world and West End premieres since 1986.
Welcome to the Family runs at the Old Laundry until 27 May before transferring to his hometown theatre, the Stephen Joseph across the country in Scarborough.
Sir Alan’s 89th work, Constant Companions, opens at the SJT in September before transferring across to the Old Laundry.
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