Two characters in three-hour play

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A Cricket Match, Devonshire Park Theatre, Eastbourne.

ANY straight play that runs for nearly three hours is too long, but one that only has two characters playing four different parts each is asking a lot of the audience.

A Cricket Match by Alan Ayckbourn is from his Intimate Exchanges series of eight inter-related plays. If you don’t know the series you do not really know the characters and although this is a great tour-de-force for the two actors Stephen Beckett and Jenny Funnell, it is a bit confusing especially as Stephen Beckett was quite similar in all his roles.

Jenny Funnell, who became a household name when she played Sandy in the popular TV series As Time Goes By, proved what a versatile actress she is in her four very different roles. Stephen Beckett was best in the role of Toby Celia’s drunken husband. I found him a bit irritating as Toby’s best friend Miles but I am not sure if that is the character he was playing or just a bit of over-acting.

That is because there is no build-up to the characters so you can get to know them and I guess this play works best when you see it with the others.

Ayckbourn is Britain’s most popular playwright and he has written some marvellously funny plays but this is not his best. It is funny in parts but the best bits happen offstage – Miles groping Celia in the shed while the audience have nothing to watch but just have to listen to the crashes and bangs in the small wooden hut.

Miles and Toby’s fight at the cricket match over a dubious umpiring decision,again taking place offstage in the changing room.

The set is minimal, so it serves for every scene, but the direction by Patric Kearns is slick and the two actors deserve congratulations for such a marathon performance in so many different roles.

Amanda Wilkins