JOYCE MCMILLAN on A CHORUS OF DISAPPROVAL at Pitlochry Festival Theatre, for The Scotsman 27.6.13.
4 stars ****
PITLOCHRY, on a warm summer afternoon; and for the second time in 24 hours – after Blood Brothers at the Playhouse – I find myself watching a fine piece of theatre, written in England in the 1980’s, that now seems like a message from a different planet.
It’s not that the great Alan Ayckbourn pulls any punches, in his portrayal of what happens when a shy but handsome young widower called Guy joins the amateur dramatic society in the small town where he lives, just as they are about to tackle John Gay’s 18th century masterpiece, The Beggar’s Opera. Like Macheath, the hero he ends up playing, Guy soon finds himself besieged by the affections of at least two competing women; and Ayckbourn is relentless in his portrayal both of the company’s insensitive and bullying amateur director, Dafydd (a frighteningly persuasive Carl Patrick) and of the fierce sexual frustration and energy of the town’s women, including Dafydd’s unhappy wife Hannah, played with great feeling by Irene Allen.
From wife-swapping parties to grubby land-deals brokered by local grandees, the world Ayckbourn describes seems a dated one now, when sexual infidelity has lost its frisson of naughtiness, and multinational companies have moved on from exploiting and abandoning small-town communities, to defining and reshaping every aspect of our lives.
Yet Richard Baron’s formidable 14-strong company make a fine job of interpreting the play for a 21st century audience, in a production that thoroughly enjoys the play’s double vision – the backstage crises, and the show itself – of church-hall dramatics at their most passionate. And Alex Scott Fairley turns in a thoroughly charismatic and well-judged performance as Guy, the quiet homme fatal who wreaks havoc among the women, in a decade when – after that long Victorian interlude between Gay and Ayckbourn – women once again needed to make no apology for their sexuality, and their desire.