In Alan Ayckbourn's Bedroom Farce there are four couples but only three bedrooms. One of the play's greatest strengths is that all of the characters are instantly familiar, and the shorthand used between each respective husband and wife is very recognisable.
The set is divided into three separate rooms. The one on the far left - neat, traditional and overwhelmingly pink - belongs to Delia and Ernest; a couple in their 70s who have fallen into a comfy pattern of bickering, deciding Delia is right, and going to bed at a decent hour with the electric blanket on (with pilchards on toast this particular night, it being their anniversary.) They are true stiff upper-lip, keep calm and carry on types, but not at all unlikeable.
Next to them, stage-wise, are Malcolm and Kate, an utterly normal, well-grounded couple whose practical jokes and well, contentedness would be annoying, were it not for the fact that Kate is wonderfully big-hearted, and Malcolm clearly a good man despite his alpha male ego going into overdrive every now and again. And on the far right are Nick and Jan, who drive each other mad at the best of times, but especially now irritable workaholic Nick is laid up in bed with a bad back and Jan’s bedside manner leaves a lot to be desired.
The fourth couple, who wander from bedroom to bedroom leaving a trail of destruction for the others to clear up, are Trevor (wayward son of Ernest and Delia and Jan’s old flame) and Susannah; emotional wrecks who are on the verge of breaking up for good when we meet them at Kate and Malcolm’s party.
It has to be said that their discussions provide some uncomfortable moments for the audience – and perhaps an explanation as to why Hall decided to set the play when it was written, in the 1970s. Their discussions soon reveal that their relationship is violent – Trevor has thrown a chair and we actually witness Susannah hit him on the head with a substantial lampstand – and it appears that we are meant to be laughing during these exchanges. From a 21st century viewpoint, that is quite difficult to take.
Away from those awkward moments, however, there is much to laugh at, mainly thanks to a cast blessed with fine comic timing. Jenny Seagrove, for example, is perfectly cast as the strong matriarch Delia, and cleverly imbues her with just enough warmth as to ensure that she is not simply a twin-set caricature. In the centre, Finty Williams’s Kate is pure loveliness, and over on the right, comic actor Tony Gardner gets many of the biggest laughs thanks to his sublime delivery of lines which could go unnoticed in other hands. His straight-forward talk with Trevor also provides one of the play’s few deeper moments.
Some details of this play, then, have not aged at all well, but luckily the nature of relationships do not change so quickly. And while there are probably more profound nights to be had in the West End at the moment, this production’s talented cast means Bedroom Farce is certainly an enjoyable one.
Written for MusicOMH.com