Now retired from Scarborough duties Alan Ayckbourn, still in top form, has revived his hilarious thirty-year-old farce especially for the Orange Tree and I predict a busy box office.
Matthew Cottle (Tristram), Michael Simkins (Roland) and Adrian McLoughlin (Bainbridge) in Taking Steps at the Orange Tree Theatre Photo: Tristram Kenton
Dedicated to the immortal Ben Travers, this is Richmond’s most blissfully funny evening for a generation, the playing time stretching out as the audience laughs itself silly for the better part of three hours.
Ayckbourn sets his action in a crumbling, haunted house but simultaneously on three floors, connected by invisible staircases enacted by the cast as they rush from one level to another while staying on the ground floor.
Thus bedroom and attic events overlap with living-room chat lubricated by stiff whiskeys, while an inarticulate conveyancing solicitor who cannot end a sentence without getting the words in the wrong order - brilliantly played by Matthew Cottle - finds himself innocently enjoying a night in bed with someone else’s wife, then with her brother’s intended.
This string of farcical events defies brief description. Suffice to say that more than one character ends up mistaken for a pill-popping suicide as unread notes of farewell serve as tragic time bombs.
Stephen Beckett as Mark, a ponderous male, reveals an impressive ability to turn cliche into rich comedy, while Anna Francolini as his sister Liz, a limber dancer and compulsive bolter, does bedroom ballet workouts that threaten the living-room ceiling.
In the key role as the thrice-deserted Roland, a hard-drinking business tycoon, Michael Simkins does a glorious turn as the generous supplier of drinks who suddenly collapses into childlike grief when his latest wife runs off.
Completing a superbly drilled cast, Adrian McLoughlin plays the disreputable landlord in a terrifying biker’s helmet and leathers, while Emily Pithon as Mark’s fey fiancee makes her bid for life, love and liberty.