Venue: Ensemble Theatre (Kirribilli NSW), Dec 12, 2013 – Jan 25, 2014
Playwright: Alan Ayckbourn
Director: Anna Crawford
Actors: Brian Meegan, Fiona Press, Gillian Axtell, Douglas Hansell, Lizzie Mitchell, Jamie Oxenbould, Olivia Pigeot, Bill Young
Alan Ayckbourn’s brilliant script is a work about the anxieties of middle classes in English suburbia. Its comedy is flamboyantly unhinged, and bears the strong flavour of absurdist British humour that is loved on stages and television the world over. His characters are quirky and colourful, yet complex enough to prevent them from becoming mere caricatures. Ayckbourn’s construction of “the frightening other” is masterful. We watch the onstage characters imagine a threat without actually seeing any substantiation for their terror. Audiences are implicated into the farce being performed, because we share in the imagery of the imagined enemy, but the play constantly reminds us of the stupidity in the scenarios being presented and indeed, the irrationality of those fears.
Brian Meegan is an effective leading man, playing the neighbourhood watch group leader Martin Massie with charm and energetic ardor. All the action is structured around him, and he displays great commitment and gravitas that holds the plot together. Jamie Oxenbould plays the cuckolded Gareth. His characterisation is idiosyncratic and subtle, turning a smaller part into a memorable, and very odd, stand out role.
Direction of the play focuses on plot trajectories, resulting in very clear storytelling, and amusing discourse on themes and concepts. However, interpretation of the play’s comedy elements falls short. There is an emphasis on realism in performances while the text seems to require a much broader comic style. Potential for laughter resides in virtually every line of Ayckbourn’s sharp writing, but his wit is not always strongly delivered.
Neighbourhood Watch deals with issues of class and hypocrisy in our societies. It exposes what we all know to be true, but in a way that surprises and fascinates. Its characters are simultaneously familiar and unpredictable, and they present a story that we can all relate to, regardless of which side of the fence we imagine ourselves to be situated.