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A CurtainUp London London Review
A Chorus of Disapproval

She’s my Swiss Army Wife. — Dafydd
A Chorus of Disapproval
Nigel Harman as Guy and Rob Bryden as Dafydd
(Photo: Catherine Ashmore)
Alan Ayckbourn has written 73 plays, one for each year of his age: many of them first played at Scarborough in the round at the Stephen Joseph Theatre. A Chorus of Disapproval was first produced in the mid 1980s and was the first to win Ayckbourn an Olivier award. It features the behind the scenes events of an amateur production of The Beggar’s Opera and starts with the closing scene from the final production of the run, when we see the stage hero Macheath (Nigel Harman as widower Guy Jones) being cold-shouldered by the rest of the cast. The play that follows will explain why. We are thrown back into Jones’ audition and will see his rise from a minor part as Crook fingered Jack to the male lead via a series of incidents and disasters, including some intrigue around insider information on some land required for a big company development.

As the annoyingly, aggressively Welsh, light opera amateur director Dafydd ap Llewellyn, Trevor Nunn has cast popular comedian Rob Bryden in his first acting role. Bryden does very well as the soon to be cuckolded local solicitor looking for kudos and escape through control of the amateur thespians. Steven Edis steps outside of his normal musical director role to play in addition, Mr Ames, the long suffering pianist. Guy’s audition as he renders a great Welsh classic anthem in English is constantly pre-empted by Dafydd, the director as he cannot resist singing first. Life imitates art when Guy Jones gets involved with two women, one the wife of his friend, Ashley Jensen is Hannah Llewelleyn in the opera as Polly Peachum, and the other the vampish Fay Hubbard (Daisy Beaumont) who, with her husband, relieves marital boredom in the small provincial town by inviting couples to swinging parties.

It is always difficult for professional actors to convey the wooden, awkward acting of amateur dramatists and the lovely Nigel Harman has to hold back when he is onstage as Macheath. The terrible wig does help of course. I am not sure that we really understand his motivations as Guy and the scene in the café with Hannah is touching but doesn’t leave the audience with anywhere to go. The pompous Dafydd will pour his heart out about the difficulties of his sexless marriage, unaware that all these confidences are being relayed on the tannoy to the whole cast. I liked Rob Compton’s mod with braces and Doc Marten boots Crispin Usher, and the conflict he causes like his part as the original Macheath in dating two girls at once. Georgia Brown is strong as one of Crispin’s girls, the fesisty Bridget Baines, stage manager and behind the bar in her father’s pub.

Rob Jones’ sets are superb and numerous— from amateur stage, to local pub, to black painted backstage walls to local café. Sadly the play felt a bit lame, rather slow, not as funny as Noises Off and not as clever as Ayckbourn’s other plays and with less developed pathos to the comedy.

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A Chorus of Disapproval
Written by Alan Ayckbourn
Directed by Trevor Nunn

Starring: Rob Bryden, Nigel Harman, Steven Edis, Daisy Beaumont, Ashley Jensen
With: Georgia Brown, Teresa Banham, Susan Tracy, Paul Thornley, Barrie Rutter, Matthew Cottle, Rob Compton, Jessica Ellerby, Richard Emerson, Joanna Kirkland, Rebecca Brewer, Luke Bateman
Designed by Robert Jones
Lighting: Tim Mitchell
Sound: Fergus O’Hare
Music: Steven Edis
Running time: Two hours 40 minutes with one interval
Box Office: 0844 871 7622
Booking to 5th January 2012
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on 28th September 2012 performance at the Harold Pinter, Panton Street, London, SW1Y 4DN (Tube: Piccadilly Circus)

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