Dysfunctional lives mean comic production has a hint of tragedy

Table Manners by Alan Aykbourn, Talking 
Scarlet, Devonshire Park Theatre, Eastbourne

The summer season at Devonshire Park Theatre is brought to an end by the return of Talking Scarlet in a classic Alan Aykbourn comedy Table Manners.

The first in the Norman Conquest trilogy this is one of Aykbourn’s funniest plays.

I can’t remember when I last sat in a theatre and laughed out loud, neither can I remember cheers coming at the curtain call at Devonshire Park for some time but they were richly deserved.

Not only has Patric Kearns directed this with great pace, he has also designed a lovely set and chosen a superb cast.

David Callister was born to play Norman who spends his time telling jokes to hide his unhappiness in a childless marriage where his wife is the breadwinner.

When the play opens he has planned to take his sister-in-law Annie on a dirty weekend in East Grinstead because Norman just wants to make her happy.

Jo Castleton is excellent as Annie, a lonely lady stuck in a large house looking after her bedridden mother. She just wants to be loved but her on/off boyfriend Tom can only talk about the animals he looks after as a vet and cannot express his feelings to Annie. Ben Roddy has got this part off to a tee.

Natasha Gray is very well cast as Annie’s snobbish sister in law who has come to look after mother while Annie supposedly goes on a break on her own.

She has dragged her henpecked husband Reg away from his golf to come with her and Marcus Hutton gives another well-rounded performance.

Completing the cast is Anna Brecon who plays Norman’s frigid wife Ruth and she gets over to the audience why Norman is so unhappy.

There is tragedy behind this comedy as the family all live such dysfunctional lives but it is a most entertaining evening in the theatre.

Table Manners runs until Saturday, September 13. The Autumn season begins on Tuesday, September 23, with a romantic thriller set in World War II, Lotty’s War.