On the road with Alan Ayckbourn

It’s those moments of recognition that you sense in the audience that make Alan Acykbourn quite so priceless, says Christopher Timothy,

Christopher, who has lived just outside Chichester for many years, is on the road with Ayckbourn’s Season’s Greetings - a play which tours to the Theatre Royal Brighton from Monday, November 28 to Saturday, December 3.

For Christopher, it’s another chance to relish the way Ayckbourn so adeptly connects with individual members of the audience.

“There is one particular line towards the end of the play where my wife says ‘Where is my husband?’ Someone says ‘I think he has gone to bed’, and she says ‘Good!’ Usually it gets a gentle laugh, but the other night, I could hear a very distinctive ‘Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha!’ from a woman in the audience.

“I thought to myself that she must have the same relationship with her husband that my wife in the play has with my character!”

And that’s a key part of the pleasure in playing Ayckbourn, a writer who is very, very specific. Christopher cites a line where Ayckbourn, bypassing expectation, talks not of a “vicious circle” but a “vicious spiral”.

“If I said ‘vicious circle’, perhaps it would be fine, but Ayckbourn is more subtle than that, and he wants you to say ‘spiral’.”

Christopher cites another line which Ayckbourn frames with the word “now”. Now at the beginning and now at the end are just as important - one of the ways that Ayckbourn nails the natural cadences and idiosyncrasies of every-day speech and so gets to the heart of his characters.

In this instance, Ayckbourn has placed his creations in that annual pressure-cooker, commonly known as Christmas.

It’s Christmas at Belinda and Neville’s house, a time for family and friends to come together and celebrate the festivities... and celebrate they do. Take one frustrated wife, add a seductive stranger, two eccentric uncles and a mechanical monkey, and watch the hilarity unfold in Ayckbourn’s explosive festive treat.

“I am playing a boring, middle-aged doctor married to a demanding wife - not a harridan at all, but demanding. She has health issues...

“Every Christmas he does a puppet show which is the bane of everyone else. In the first act, he is preparing for it and everyone is thinking ‘He isn’t doing another puppet show, is he...’ and then in act two, I do another puppet show, which is a disaster!”