"Great effort but mediocre text"
by Matthew Partridge for remotegoat on 16/12/11

"Joking Apart" is an Alan Ayckbourn comedy about a couple, Richard (Jamie Kenna) and Anthea (Claire Marlowe), whose common-law bliss contrasts with the increasing strains of their closest friends. Over twelve years, Brian (Paul Anthoney) and Louise (Monica Bertel) see their marriage wrecked by lust and mental illness, Sven (Andrew Obeney) and Olive (Charlotte Moore) are pushed out of the business that they run with Richard while Brian's continued feelings for Anthea prevent him from finding love.

All eight members of the cast delivered good performances. However, Claire Marlowe played the infuriatingly bubbly Anthea with a huge amount of energy. Andrew Obeney also ably portrayed Sven's decline from a vigorous businessman, offering unsolicited advice on tennis and art to one of Brian's girlfriends, to a doleful heart patient unable to complete a birthday speech without breaking into tears. Antonia Reid also managed to separate each of the four characters that she played.

However, the real stars of the show were Designer Holly Best and Lighting Designer Steve Miller. In addition to creating a cosy set within the cavernous Union Theatre, they used every tool at their disposal to mark the shifting timeframes within which the play takes place. The aging of the characters and their shifting fortunes were also subtly evoked, so that they all look substantially different in the final scene in 1982 than they did at the start of the play in 1970.

Unfortunately, the efforts of the cast and the backstage crew cannot disguise the fact that that "Joking Apart" is not one of Ayckbourn's better efforts. Not only does the play fail to justify its full-length running time, but the audience is left at the end without an emotional connection to any of the characters. Although this may not have been possible, Director Ben De Wynter might have considered either cutting it down to a one-act length, or simply gone with a different Ayckbourn play altogether.

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