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Life of Riley review at Stephen Joseph Theatre Scarborough

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Many significant characters remain off stage, but rarely does an eponymous character fail to put in an appearance. In Alan Ayckbourn’s 74th play the Riley of the title is never seen. Ayckbourn has tried this device with Haunting Julia, in 1994, but curiously that play is not mentioned in his programme notes on offstage characters.

Good old George Riley is described as a hippy Peter Pan. He is so central to events that there is a teasing belief he might just put in a brief appearance.

Given a few months to live George is comforted by his friends. The three womenfolk, including his estranged wife, clean and cook and each of them agrees, without telling the others, to go on holiday with him. Cue increasing suspicion from the men, of George, of the women, of each other.

Marriages unravel. Exchanges simmer and spark and generate bursts of knowing laughter. Responses are delivered as if with a gentle slap but they have dramatic and comic force. Surprises await and some shocks.

Ayckbourn’s direction, which is too rarely praised, brings out the very best in his actors. Performances are understated but with a fine degree of detail. As an example Liza Goddard’s Kathryn sits, reluctantly accepting that she will be there for a while. The movement is at once simple and gorgeously funny.

Laura Howard’s estranged wife is in a new, loving relationship but she goes back, for an agreed period, to comfort George. Both the loving relationship and the going back are a puzzle and, after much midnight oil burning, they still are.

Production Information

Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough, September 21-October 16, then touring to February 5

Alan Ayckbourn
Alan Ayckbourn
Stephen Joseph Theatre
Laura Doddington, Liza Goddard, Laura Howard, Jamie Kenna, Ben Porter, Kim Wall
Running time
2hrs 40mins

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