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Joking Apart


The grass is always greener, so they say. But for vicar Hugh (Jamie Baughan) and his wife Louise (Louise Shuttleworth), it really is rosier over the fence. Alan Ayckbourn’s 1978 play explores the undercurrents of envy and resentment swirling around the vicarage’s next-door neighbours, picture perfect Richard (Laurence Pears) and Anthea (Frances Marshall).

Set over 12 years in the couple’s idyllic back garden, Joking Apart is a slender but astute study of success, failure and the way we measure ourselves against others. In Ayckbourn’s production – his fifth of this play – moments of awkwardness and shades of unease remain brilliantly observed. Leigh Symonds has great fun as Richard’s increasingly bitter business partner Sven, while Marshall manages somehow to convey both guileless generosity and something more unsettling as Anthea.

In many ways, it’s a play about the creep of the years – an apt theme for a 40th-anniversary production. But while envy is an evergreen subject, other aspects of Ayckbourn’s play have aged less gracefully. The mocking of Louise’s depression jars, while another character’s interchangeable young girlfriends (all played by the under-used Naomi Petersen) get a troublingly raw deal. The direction, too, can seem stuck in the past, with laborious scene changes sapping the dynamism of the drama.

What remains striking, though, is the play’s portrait of apparent perfection and what it does to those around it. Though Ayckbourn sometimes underlines his points too heavily, in its subtler moments Joking Apart still offers uncomfortable observations about how we relate and compete.

Related to this Review

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Production Details
Production nameJoking Apart
VenueStephen Joseph Theatre
StartsJuly 26, 2018
EndsOctober 4, 2018
Running time2hrs 15mins
AuthorAlan Ayckbourn
DirectorAlan Ayckbourn
Set designerMichael Holt
Costume designerMichael Holt
Lighting designerJason Taylor
Sound designerAlan Ayckbourn
CastFrances Marshall, Jamie Baughan, Laurence Pears, Leigh Symonds, Liz Jadav, Louise Shuttleworth, Naomi Petersen, Richard Stacey
Company stage managerBrian Perkins
Stage managerEmma Lang, Sarah Rhodes-Cannings
ProducerStephen Joseph Theatre
VerdictForty-year-old Ayckbourn comedy still offers some astute observations about envy and competition
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