Consuming Passions: World Premiere Reviews
Consuming Passions - Ayckbourn Serves Up Hitchcockian Restaurant Thriller (by Alfred Hickling)
Having made it 80 not out this season, with the curious, semi-improvised spoof known as The Karaoke Theatre Company, Alan Ayckbourn has knocked out plays No 81 and 82 in pretty swift measure.* Or maybe, as future scholars will argue, it’s actually play No 81 a and b, as Consuming Passions is actually two interlinked one-act pieces set, and designed to be performed in, a restaurant.
Short lunchtime entertainments have always been a feature of the Stephen Joseph theatre, often in the form of tryouts for emerging dramatists. (Tim Firth got his first start in the Scarborough bistro.) More recently, Ayckbourn has begun to tinker with the format himself, first with the double-hander known as Farcicals; now with this enigmatic pair of Hitchcockian miniatures, in which audiences enjoying a light lunch find themselves dining in the twilight zone.
Part one, which is entitled Premonitions, finds a rather anxious woman named Melanie sitting at a restaurant table, awaiting the arrival of her husband, who might as well be named Godot given the likelihood of his ever showing up. Eventually the waiter gets frustrated and seats a second couple at the table, who proceed to talk across Melanie as if she wasn’t there. It’s either astonishingly rude or incredibly weird, as you begin to wonder if the hapless, abandoned Melanie is not just socially invisible.
The plot thickens as the interlopers - a poised, Hitchcock blonde and her puppyish male admirer - begin conspiring to nudge the woman’s husband off the edge of a cliff. This leaves Melanie with only the 30-minute duration of the second play, Repercussions, to intercede and prevent the planned accident from taking place.
Though fairly slight, the plays are replete with Ayckbournian self-allusion. The two-part structure and conspiratorial air are reminiscent of The Revengers’ Comedies. The jolly waiter Aggi and his identical, bad-tempered brother Dinka were first seen charming/terrorising diners in Time of My Life. But most of all it draws from a similar source as Ayckbourn’s hallucinatory depiction of a mental breakdown from Woman in Mind.
As Melanie, Louise Shuttleworth has a bottled-up quality of suppressed emotion that suggests she’s on the brink of something unpleasant. Throughout the two plays she pulls off the commendable feat of appearing entirely plausible, while causing you to doubt the veracity of anything she says. It adds to the drama that the restaurant environment makes us complicit in her delusion. There’s a woman over there undergoing a complete meltdown – should we get involved or simply ignore her and have another sandwich? You can see the plays on their own and in potentially any order, though that would be a bit like ordering pudding before moving on to the main course. And though it’s far from Ayckbourn’s most substantial fare, it’s fairly appetising nonetheless.
(The Guardian, 15 August 2016)
* Consuming Passions is considered by Alan Ayckbourn to be his 80th play; it is a single play in two parts much like his previous work The Revengers' Comedies. The Karaoke Theatre Company has never been considered his 80th play and falls under the likes of his revues, children's entertainments and one acts plays which are not considered part of the full-length canon.
Consuming Passions (by Gilly Collinson)
Always keen to devise new variants on the theatre experience, in his latest play - his 80th - Alan Ayckbourn again resists a traditional format. Consuming Passions comprises two short playlets, Premonitions and Repercussions, initially being shown in the theatre’s café - complete, if you so wish, with soup and sandwiches.
Also set in a café, grumpy, boastful Melanie (convincingly portrayed by Louise Shuttleworth) is infuriated by her fellow diners. But when she is joined at her table by unwelcome guests, we are left wondering exactly where reality lies.
Melanie is convinced that she is seeing the future, but as her claims become increasingly ludicrous, our faith in her begins to falter. Is she just, after all, deluded? Whilst we attempt to determine what is real and what is not, we also confront perceptions of honesty, fidelity, sanity - and the feasibility of precognition.
Shuttleworth’s fellow actors - Rachel Caffrey, Andy Cryer and Leigh Symonds - expertly multi-task their way through this entertaining performance.
At a swift half-hour each, both parts manage to be simultaneously dark and funny, in that typically Ayckbournian fashion. With food for thought and for the body, Consuming Passions is a satisfying offering, and must rate as one of theatre’s best bargains.
(Northern Echo, 14 August 2016)
Consuming Passions (by Mike Tilling)
Drop into the the Stephen Joseph Theatre for some vintage Alan Ayckbourn fizz and sparkle in your lunch hour.
Kevin Jenkins’ set, brilliantly compact, looks like it has always been a part of the Bistro. As lunch is served at your table, you are no longer only an audience member, but part of the action.
The plot revolves around Melanie (Louise Shuttleworth) who may experience a time shift, or she may be mentally unstable. Certainly the waiter (Leigh Symonds) is off-hand with her. Enter Cora (Rachel Caffrey), incognito in best Hollywood cliché style - dark glasses and headscarf.
She is meeting Freddy (Andy Cryer), her current squeeze. Melanie is astonished as, seated at her table, they begin to plot the murder of Cora’s husband. That’s enough about the plot.
The rest of this review could easily concern itself with peeling back the layers of illusion and reality and still not reveal every subtlety.
However, as we have long ago come to expect, the fun in an Ayckbourn play is interleaved with some serious social comment. Failure to communicate, desperate personal lives and gradations of social class are all in the mix. Somehow, Hitchcock is there as well.
Great fun, and excellent value for money.
(Scarborough News, 9 August 2016)
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