Alan Ayckbourn sure asks a lot of his actors. And his audiences, for that matter. His 1979 work Taking Steps dictates that all action within a dilapidated three-storey house take place on one floor. The ground floor living room, second floor master bedroom and that attic must all be placed next to each other, accessed by stairs and corridors that the actors must mime.
Sounds complicated, but in reality it works. It adds to the farcical nature of the play (even with a distinct lack of doors to slam).
The aforementioned house, once a Victorian brothel and now a renovator’s dream, is close to being bought by Roland, a man who made his fortune in plastic buckets. His wife, ex-dancer Elizabeth, hates its multiple brown bedrooms and is packing to leave them, and her three-month marriage, behind.
Landlord Leslie is anxious to sell before Roland looks too closely at the crumbling floors and walls, and junior solicitor Tristram is there to oversee the sale – that is, if he can overcome his nerves to string a sentence together. Then there’s Mark, Elizabeth’s brother, who literally sends people to sleep when he talks, and Kitty who left him at the alter and has since been arrested for soliciting.
It’s a classic case of bed-hopping, mistaken identity, misinterpreted situations and someone getting locked in a cupboard.
Mark Kilmurry has directed this production smoothly. Movement around the busy stage flows, and the various trips up and down the ‘stairs’ conjure many a giggle.
The cast is strong on the whole, although some struggle with the style. Simon London as Mark is charmingly bewildered, and flounces up and down those stairs with aplomb. Peter Kowitz is commanding as roguish Roland (even though he can’t seem to work out which accent to use), and Andrew Tighe chortles his way through as Leslie, and we chortle with him.
Design by Anna Gardiner was economical in the space without feeling like we were missing out. The bannisters where there would have been stairs was a nice touch. Lighting by Scott Allan was thorough, with some particularly lovely detail coming through the attic skylight. Sound design (uncredited) was also very detailed, with rain dripping into a bucket just one element that could easily be missed.
Having studied and performed Ayckbourn (uncovering a particular talent for his style in the process) it is always a joy for me to watch his productions. They are a particular style and a particular humour, and will not appeal to everyone. Comedies, however, do have a broad appeal, and throughout its run I think this production will see many smiling faces in the audience.
Running at the Ensemble Theatre until 13 January, 2018.
Photo Credit Prudence Upton.
Alana Kaye – Theatre Now & On The Town