A Brief History Of Women - And A Quiet Man
Richard Trinder, Editor
Lacking much of the usual cynicism of his previous 80 plays, Alan Ayckbourn's Brief History of Women is a comedy and a charmer. Not completely bereft of cutting remarks, Ayckbourn has nonetheless managed a whole play where at least one character isn't entirely embittered by life.
And the lack of bitterness is a refreshing change. There was much laughter in the audience as quiet man, Tony Spates - delightfully played by Antony Eden, lives four stages of his life at Kirkbridge Manor.
The play's title could have been more prosaic: "A social history of post Edwardian Britain up until the mid 80s, passing by the second world war and the swinging sixties" - only something a little briefer perhaps. It was not until the final scene that I finally twigged that the quiet man's entire life had been guided - albeit accidentally - by the women in his life. Hence the title.
Tony Spates is one of those characters to whom life just happens. He starts as a footman, much admired by the lady of the house, and ends as the manager of the by then Kirkbridge Manor Hotel. He is the seam of coal that Ayckbourn mines whilst extracting great value from the little gems found all around.
Louise Shuttleworth, Frances Marshall, Laura Matthews and Laurence Pears, with four parts each, were in turns vivacious, arrogant, downtrodden, seductive and pathetically stupid.
Russell Dixon is allowed full rein to establish his credentials as a vicious, unthinking, masochistic patriarch (Lord Kirkbridge) and later to make a most eloquent pitch for the Stephen Joseph Theatre's new panto Dame.
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Between acts a team of stage hands swept in and rearranged the set with such smooth efficiency with grace it was a shame they, and the technical people behind the sound system, didn't have their own 'curtain call'.
Brief History of Women is a refreshingly straightforward piece from the immense Ayckbourn portfolio. With plenty of humour and the cynicism turned down a notch it made it easy to laugh along to.
A Brief History of Women has its final night at the SJT tonight (7th October 2017). It's well worth a look. But fear not, if you can't get there tonight there's plenty more to see coming soon at the Stephen Joseph Theatre.
A Brief History Of Women - And A Quiet Man, 7th October 2017, 9:50 AM