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Review: Alan Ayckbourn’s ‘Round and Round the Garden’ at the Everyman

PUBLISHED: 10:15 28 January 2016

Round and Round the Garden

Round and Round the Garden

Archant

Sorry, Alan, but Round and Round the Garden fails to tickle Katie Jarvis right under there.

So this is the thing. I’m not completely full-theatre-critic. I do know that what you see on stage is a fictionalised version of life. I don’t expect to go to Denmark and hate everyone’s uncle (though those long Danish nights are enough to send anyone the full Polonius). Or that every time Brian Rix is introduced to anyone his trousers fall down.

But I was a bit puzzled by Round and Round the Garden, notwithstanding. A bit puzzled that a wife – Ruth (Louise Faulkner) - on seeing her husband – Norman (Philip Stewart) - rolling around in passionate broad-daylight embrace with her own sister – would simply compare him to a playful dog that slobbers on house-guests rather than, for example, a full rutting stag that should be castrated and shot on sight.

The middle-aged couple in front of me seemed to be enjoying the play immensely, clutching full theatre drinks, giggling at the jokes, and cooing at each other throughout. But, to be fair, it did occur to me that they were newly joined in harmony. And that, three months herein, he’d be saying, “It’s your turn to buy the drinks and I’m not going to any more of your bloody plays, either. THEY’RE NOT FUNNY!”

But, as my catchphrase goes, perhaps I’m being unfair. Alan Ayckbourn is undeniably popular and maybe I’ve just been unlucky that I’ve caught the few of his 80 plays that aren’t rib-tickling and very slightly believable.

Round and Round the Garden is part of the Norman Conquest trilogy, of course. And – even though I’ve never seen Richard Briers in it – half of my brain was looking behind every bush for Penelope Keith crying, “Jerry!” That would have livened things up.

It’s not dreadful, dreadful. Annie (Jo Castleton) lives at home, looking after her ailing mother, pursued by Tom (Ben Roddy) the vet, who overtreats her cat in an effort to keep visiting her. (Though for what purpose is unclear. Tom is the most unamorous lovestruck dim-but-you-need-to-be-clever-to-be-a-vet-don’t-you-? vet who’s ever sent a cat 30ft up a tree and not really worried, apparently.) Annie’s brother, Reg, and wife, Sarah, have kindly come to hold the fort while Annie goes away for the weekend, possibly to Hastings, possibly to East Grinstead which, if you ask me, are equally grim prospects. But we soon discover that, far from going solo (as it were), Annie’s intended weekend companion is none other than brother-in-law Norman.

There then follows a series of misunderstandings that only occur because the characters seem to be listening to each other as little as the audience is.

The second half is a bit better.

I had my first qualms within the first minute-or-so when Norman gets caught on a non-existent thorn bush and Annie has to extricate him from a non-existent problem. Brilliant metaphor.

The Everyman Theatre is at Regent Street, Cheltenham, Gloucestershire GL50 1HQ, box office 01242 572573; www.everymantheatre.org.uk

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