Lisa Thomas gives us the inside story on directing this popular play, our next show at SLT
What do you think is the enduring appeal of Alan Ayckbourn, and especially this play?
Alan Ayckbourn is an explorer of seemingly ordinary people and the strangeness and eccentricity that lurks beneath everyday lives. I was looking for a play about theatre and performance to do in the new theatre space.
Originally I thought of Michael Frayn’s Noises Off, with its intricate onstage and backstage plot and immense set, but that wasn’t available for performance. Then I remembered this play, which is about 30 years old now, but still feels fresh and funny. Reading it I loved the fact that the characters, although ‘types’ were brilliantly drawn to create individuals with a fascinating network of interrelationships. It also speaks to anyone involved in non-professional theatre of the difficulties inherent in weaving it together with people’s jobs and the other parts of their lives.
Reviews of professional productions suggest that they have over-egged the ‘amateurishness’ of the society while failing to foreground the wonderfully written characters, whose relationships are the heart of the play. I also love the way that Ayckbourn has managed to echo in the snatches of song from The Beggar’s Opera what is going on in the play.
For those of us who haven’t seen this one, can you give us a brief plot summary?
Guy Jones, a young widower slightly adrift in a small town, joins PALOS (Pendon Light Operatic Society) to make friends and give himself something to do. With the enthusiastic encouragement of Dafydd ap Llewellyn, the director, he takes on a small role in their production of John Gay’s The Beggars’ Opera.
As rehearsals progress, Guy finds, by way of never saying no to anything that he is asked to do, that he is embroiled in relationships with several members of the society – both in a romantic and business sense. He also progresses, as other male members fall by the wayside, from a tiny bit part to the lead, but at the expense of the goodwill of other members of the society.
How have you interpreted this script for today?
The script is actually pretty timeless and while we could have set it in the 1980s when the play was written and first performed, there didn’t seem to be a need to do this so this production is set in the present day. Anyone who’s a member of SLT and has worked on a show will recognise many aspects of the story – and perhaps one or two of the characters.
Guy’s predicament – of loneliness and wanting to fit in – is relevant at any time, and while certain individuals’ predilections are less fashionable now that they were then, they are still going on and have perhaps even more comedic value than they did then.
Tell us about the challenges of directing this play
The greatest hurdle has been meshing the music and drama together. I had hoped to find an actor who played piano to play Mr Ames and accompany the singing, but it was not to be. I had underestimated the quantity of music and the difficulty of singing some of it and had cast for character, rather than whether the actor’s voice matched that of the role their character is playing in The Beggar’s Opera (with a couple of notable exceptions).
I have been hugely aided in getting over this by the cast’s willingness to push themselves to the limit in terms of their voices. And also, by the wonderfully patient and helpful Alan Walker, who was willing to subject his family and neighbours to our singing for several lengthy sessions where he persuaded a couple of people to use their high ‘head’ voices and taught multi-part harmony. Stevie Hughes at Bromley Little Theatre also kindly gave me access to the music he had recorded for BLT’s production a couple of years ago which has proved invaluable.
Chorus of Disapproval by Alan Ayckbourn runs 5 – 9 June at the Old Fire Station. You can buy tickets in advance here. The run includes a Saturday matinee (2.30pm), but currently Thursday night is reserved for invited guests only at our gala night.We look forward to welcoming old and new members back at our refurbished West Norwood home.