Watermill Theatre - House and Garden
25th May to 1st July 2017.
Review from Newbury Theatre.
House and Garden by Alan Ayckbourn are two plays going on at the same time and telling the same story from different perspectives. Each is sufficiently self-contained to be understood on its own, but seeing both will elucidate some things that were not fully explained in a single play.
Teddy is angry – really angry – because his wife Trish isn’t speaking to him. In fact, she’s pretending he doesn’t exist. It’s a big day for them both. The annual fête is taking place in the garden of their imposing 18th century house, and they are hosting a lunch party for film star Lucille, who’s opening the fête, and for Gavin who is in the Prime Minister’s inner circle and is expected to give the PM’s approval for Teddy standing for MP in the upcoming election. To complicate it further, their neighbours Giles and Joanna are also coming to lunch and Teddy is having an affair with Joanna, which is why Trish is blanking him.
The guests arrive; Lucille speaks no English and Teddy speaks no French. In a hilarious ending to the first act, the six others speak to Lucille in fluent French, leaving Teddy fuming.
In act two, the laughs are still there, but Ayckbourn becomes more philosophical as Trish and Teddy’s relationship reaches a crisis point.
The main characters in House are Trish (a lovely controlled performance from Teresa Banham), Teddy (Tim Treloar, impressive as the misguided philanderer), Gavin (smooth, dapper, ruthless politician; Darrell Brockis relishes the role), Sally (Trish and Teddy’s 17 year old daughter, very well played by Grace Cheatle) and Jake (Giles and Joanna’s son with an unrequited yearning for Sally, a nicely understated beta male performance from Imran Momen).
Preparations are under way for the fête. There is a complicated relationship between Izzie, the housekeeper, Warn, the taciturn gardener, and Izzie’s daughter Pearl. Teddy tells Joanna their affair is over and Trish tells her she must tell Giles, who’s the only one who doesn’t know about it. In a hopeless state, Joanna throws herself in front of Warn’s lawnmower. Eventually Joanna tells Giles, who is distraught.
Lindy and Barry are sorting out the fête and setting up the stalls and the maypole. Lindy’s confidence is constantly undermined by Barry.
In act two, Joanna has gone completely bonkers, hiding in the hedge and claiming that Giles has been taken over by the evil ‘Harold’. Children dance round the maypole, but the fête is rained off and the play gets increasingly chaotic.
Garden’s main characters are Joanna (Cate Hamer, starting as nervy and rapidly degenerating into nervous breakdown), Giles (Robert Mountford as a naive twit with a heart of gold), Lucille (Nanou Harry, very French, very elegant) and Barry and Lindy. This was a beautifully acted partnership from Gareth Kennerley and Sally Tatum, providing both humour and pathos from the overbearing Barry and the put-upon Lindy. I was reminded of Keith and Candice-Marie in Mike Leigh’s Nuts in May.
The minor characters, appearing in both plays, are Fran (Jessica Woo, Lucille’s minder), Izzie (Melody Brown, becoming increasingly frantic), Warn (Gary Pillai, quietly resigned to the bloody women around him) and Pearl (Louise Coulthard, lively and tarty). Pearl deserves a special mention: half way through House she appeared with a crutch, returning on two for the curtain call and on two throughout in Garden. In a dress rehearsal she had injured her ankle, but in the true tradition of ‘the show must go on’, she put on a great performance which must have been made even more difficult by having to rush between theatre and garden. Good luck for the rest of the run.
And not forgetting the Watermill’s Young Company, manning the maypole. There was a lovely moment when a small girl walked across the garden carrying a large tuba, unable to respond to Giles’s high-five.
Ayckbourn’s characters in these plays are caricatures. Director Elizabeth Freestone’s choice was to go OTT with the caricatures rather than toning it down to bring out more subtlety. This generally worked well, giving the productions lots of pace and oomph; my only reservation was with Giles – we had a lot of sympathy for him, but would have felt more if he had been more muted, especially in House.
Anyway, both productions were a hoot. The standard of acting was exceptional and the timing perfect, despite what must have been a logistical nightmare for the cast and crew. I can thoroughly recommend either, and preferably both, of these productions.
Review from the British Theatre Guide.
Newbury’s Watermill Theatre continues its 50th anniversary celebrations with a spirited and splendid production of Alan Ayckbourn’s House and Garden. The two plays are performed simultaneously: House in the theatre and Garden in the beautiful grounds; they can be viewed in any order and are tremendous fun.
You can see both plays on Thursdays and Saturdays, which is highly recommended to understand the full intricacies of the characters' lives.
I saw Garden first on a beautiful June afternoon with the sun shining, sitting on banks of tiered seating.
It’s the annual village garden fête courtesy of the Platt family, much to the angst of Warn, the gruff gardener (Gary Pillai), who has removed the direction signs and can’t get the mower started.
Teddy, the patriarch of this dysfunctional household, outstandingly played by Tim Treloar, is a womaniser who is having a passionate affair with his neighbour’s wife Joanna, sensitively portrayed by Cate Hamer.
Their assignations happen in the garden, in the bushes and even the flower beds. However, their liaison is an apparent open secret. Teddy decides to end the relationship resulting in Joanna’s spectacular breakdown as she descends into hiding in the bushes and going native.
Overseeing the preparations for the day is the over-enthusiastic organiser Barry (Gareth Kennerley) and his long-suffering wife Lindy (Sally Tatum) who set up the various stalls and constantly bicker. They hope that the rain won’t spoil the day as it has for the past 11 years.
We also meet Joanna’s husband and local doctor Giles, superbly played by Robert Mountford, who is totally unaware of his wife’s infidelity and has a penchant for morris dancing. When the truth is revealed, he hilariously loses all control whilst blaming himself for the whole situation.
As with most fêtes, we have children dancing round the maypole and a fancy dress competition with unexpected results.
The arrival of the sensuous French film actress Lucille, the delightful Nanou Harry, who is to open the fête causes further chaos.
Meanwhile in the theatre, House explores the tensions between Teddy and his stylish wife Trish, an impressive performance by Teresa Banham, who totally ignores his presence even although he is in the room creating great comic delight.
Teddy is getting sloshed, accidently sits on a plate of vol-au-vents and ingratiates himself to Lucille even although he doesn’t understand a word she says as he can’t speak French.
Teddy is expecting a visit from his college chum and political dealer Gavin (Darrell Brockis) who is a hideous manipulating character about to offer him the opportunity to stand as a member of parliament as Teddy’s father and grandfather did before him.
All appears to hang on the success of lunch but harassed housekeeper Izzy (Melody Brown) is not having a good day as everybody is arriving late and the beef is constantly taken in and out of the oven and is spoilt.
Her daughter Pearl (Louise Coulthard) is the feckless maid who breaks china and causes havoc in the house. You wonder how effective she will be as the fortune-teller in the garden.
But alcoholic Lucille becomes totally intoxicated as Teddy introduces her to the delights of single malt whisky and her agent Fran (Jessica Woo) is not happy at being mistaken for the chauffeur and not invited to lunch.
The blossoming romance between Giles’s son, the cub reporter Jake (Imran Momen), and Trish’s political aware sixth form daughter Sally (Grace Cheatle) is filled with teenage awkwardness and Gavin’s attempted seduction of her is sinisterly embarrassing.
Neil Irish’s design beautifully creates the charm of the country house in the theatre and makes full use of the garden with a fountain centre stage.
Elizabeth Freestone’s assured direction brings the very best from her cast and the pace is breathtaking with such timely choreography.
This is the perfect summer entertainment filled with humour and Ayckbourn’s wonderful exploration of life.
Review from The Times.
It’s two shows in one (or perhaps one show in two) — a great gimmick, and a neat illustration of the way that we can all be
both a central and peripheral character
When a character in an Alan Ayckbourn play insists that his big day has “got to go like clockwork”, you know for sure that the time will soon be cock-up o’clock. Part of the appeal of this innovative twinset of comedies, though, is that we know that productions themselves have to go like clockwork. First seen in Scarborough in 1999, then at the National in London in 2000, House & Garden is two shows in one, or perhaps one show in two.
One play (House) shows the audience the events in the living room. The other (Garden) simultaneously shows another audience (in this instance in the Watermill’s actual garden) what those characters are getting up to at the same time outdoors. Actors have to run between the two locations, the two audiences.
It’s a great gimmick. It’s also, if you fancy it, a neat illustration of the way that we can all be both a central and peripheral character, depending on the context. It certainly prompted Ayckbourn to give us a larky yet lacerating beauty of a comedy in House. It’s the day of the annual fête at the country home of the posh Platt family. Womanising Teddy is preparing for a visit by Tory high-up Gavin Ryng-Mayne. This could be the start of a glorious political career. However, his wife, Trish, isn’t talking to him, nor is his sixth-former daughter, Sally, nor is Giles, the friend whose wife has been flattening the undergrowth with Teddy.
While the characters get bumpy rides, Elizabeth Freestone’s productions flow smoothly. Granted, here and there the actors underline foibles that they should let speak for themselves: Ayckbourn’s mix of high comedy and acute empathy is deceptively difficult for an actor to pull off. There are some fine turns, though, best of all from Teresa Banham as Trish, the admiral’s daughter reaching the end of her stiff-upper-lip coping strategy. She has a tender classic of a scene with Sally, given spot-on teenage airs by Grace Cheatle, in which she fills her girl in on the potholes that life has in store for even the best of us. It’s a quietly stunning performance.
Tim Treloar has comic brio and secret vulnerability as Teddy, while Darrell Brockis has a touch of the Jeffrey Archers about him as he nails the dead-eyed, bogus bonhomie of Gavin, who in the shows’ most unsettling scene first seduces and then humiliates 17-year-old Sally. Having seen House first, though — you can see them in either order, or just one of them — I found less to get excited by in Garden. Banham and Brockis barely figure, and instead we get lolloping and/or frantic comedy from Ayckbourn’s less distinctive creations. Some beguiling shafts of comedy and pain remain, but House is where the heart is.
Review from the Newbury Weekly News.
Two plays, two locations, one shared story, at The Watermill
House and Garden, at The Waterrnill, Bagnor, until July 1
Alan Ayckbourn must have had a satirical smile on his face as he wrote these two plays, that demand actors alternate between two venues, keeping the story going in both.
The Watermill, with its stage and garden in close proximity, is an ideal place to achieve this, which doesn't mean it was an easy ride for those concerned, but did make it an incredibly entertaining evening for those of us, in or out, who simply sat and watched the story (stories) unfold.
Several of the cast are required to speak French. I suspect most of the audience were casting their minds back to schooldays, racking their brains and only getting as far as 'mon amour'.
In House we meet Teddy, Trish and Sally, a family whose conversation is limited because Trish (Teresa Banham) has stopped speaking to husband Teddy (Tim Treloar), regarding him as invisible, even when they are in the same room. This produces hilarious, frenzied dialogue.
In contrast, teenage daughter Sally (Grace Cheatle) has high ideals and a great deal to say most of it about herself, a person of whom she has a high opinion. Nevertheless, the black comedy scene when she receives her comeuppance evoked my pity.
In spite of the problems, Trish is giving a lunch party for beautiful French actress Lucille (Nanou Harry) and Gavin (Darrell Brockis), friend of the PM and out to persuade Teddy to follow the family tradition and stand as an MP.
There are secrets everywhere; some we hear about – Teddy's affair with family friend, Joanna (Cate Hamer) – and some are merely hinted at, as when Gavin, who was at university with Teddy, tells his old chum that he no longer wishes to be called 'Sparky' and assumes Teddy has given up being called 'Penelope'. Giles (Robert Mountford), husband of Joanna and a Very Good Sort, is distraught at hearing of his wife's affair and in Garden – which I saw the following evening – much conversation takes place between him and his son Jake (Imran Momen) about Joanna, who has a propensity for hiding in bushes and is becoming more and more disturbed. In the hope that she will be distracted, eight children are encouraged to dance round the maypole and this delight, contrasting with complete chaos ensuing in the foreground produces one of the funniest scenes of the evening.
It is in Garden that, as the jigsaw pieces of the two plays fit together, we see more of Trish's feisty cook Izzie (Melody Brown), Izzie's flirtatious, idle daughter. Pearl (Louise Coulthard) and taciturn gardener Warn (Gary Pillai). Izzie is intent on getting Pearl a dad, it's just unfortunate that Warn and Pearl have had a relationship, but never mind, it will all be all right – hopefully... (many brownie points to Louise Coulthard who was on crutches having sprained an ankle in the dress rehearsal).
In the same play we meet the meek Lindy (Sally Tatum) and her husband, overwhelmingly jolly, domineering Barry (Gareth Kennerley). As the pair put up the stalls for the garden fete (one of the reasons for the lunch in House) the comedy level increases and Lindy's constant placatory smile earns laughs on its own.
By this time, Teddy has had a liaison with the lovely Lucille in Pearl's fortune teller's tent (which collapses trapping Teddy in his red underpants), Giles, steeped in misery, has donned his morris dancer's costume (plus bells) and is entertaining Pearl with a one man dance, the children have had a fancy dress parade and the fountain has started playing.
Meanwhile, back in House we know that Trish leaves Teddy and that Jake loves Sally. In Garden, Lindy has gone off for a new life, Joanna is covered in mud and Lucille has gone back to the clinic with her PR lady Fran (Jessica Woo).
Are you with me, so far?
"Why was Sally in pyjamas?" I heard someone say as we left. Ah, well, unless you've seen both plays you'll never find that out, lady, and see them both you should for this is entertainment of the highest quality.
House and Garden are examples of what a tour de force can be achieved when the work of a brilliant author is combined with an excellent cast, under the direction here of Elizabeth Freestone, with a charming set that turns the Watermill stage into a conservatory. It must have been a nightmare to bring to life, but this is comedy with bells on – and not just the ones on Giles' costume. Each play would stand alone, but give yourself a summer treat and enjoy both.
There are reviews from WhatsOnStage ("a perfect summer's evening's entertainment" - 4 stars), The Stage ("the plays are lent real depth and feeling – and a vivid sense of reality – by the setting... Ayckbourn's brilliant, occasionally brutal, double-bill comes thrillingly alive" - 4 stars), Daily Info ("one of the most singularly interesting pieces I have seen performed... the cast are marvellous, with several standout performances").