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The Mill at Sonning - Improbable Fiction

16th March to 6th May 2017.

Review from the Newbury Weekly News.

Vintage Ayckbourn

Improbable Fiction, at The Mill at Sonning, from Thursday, March 16, to Saturday, May 6

Although Alan Ayckbourn has written serious drama, often interspersed with surface comedy, many of us prefer the straight-ahead slapstick and comic capers that make up much of his output. This play, his 69th, is firmly in the latter category.

The action concerns six members of a writers circle and their chairman, the gentle, encouraging Arnold, played sympathetically by Andrew Bone. None of the other six have managed to find success and are currently suffering writer's block.

Sarah Lawrie plays Viwi, who has completed six unpublished crime novels, while Angela Sims as Grace produces children's stories, except she hasn't actually written a word of the story she tells her friends about.

Jess, neatly underplayed at first by Julie Teal, writes Victorian melodrama bodice-rippers, when she gets to write anything at all. Ben Porter as Clem is a writer of turgid sci-fi yarns, where the characters often use the wrong descriptive words. Laurence Kennedy gave a bright, slightly over the top portrayal of Brevis Winterton, but then what choice did he have playing a man who is adapting The Pilgrim's Progress into – I kid you not – a musical? Rhiannon Handy was suitably scatty and somewhat nervous as Ilsa, a minder who comes hi to look after Arnold's bedridden mother.

Comedy in the first-half meeting of these folks is sporadic, but it soon explodes into hilarious farce in act two, as the characters in the various half-written yarns come to life and act out their bad dialogue, improbable narratives in front of the startled Arnold. This gives the rest of the cast a chance to go over the top outrageously and they do, of course.

Mild little Ilsa becomes a flirtatious Victorian maid, Bombastic Brevis hams it up as a Space Alien hunter spouting wrong words all over the place and Jess becomes a purple prose narrator. Perhaps best of all, Clem becomes a PD James-type old-style detective, spouting poetry and producing a voice much like actor Edward Fox. Viwi becomes his downtrodden sergeant. When someone is described as 'stealing, drinking and whoring' but 'he has his good side', we know we are in vintage Ayckbourn territory. Neatly-paced and choreographed by director Robin Herford, this play, first produced in Scarborough in 2005 is one of Ayckbourn's best, played to the hilt for laughs by this cast.