Roundelay can mean a circle dance – and Alan Ayckbourn definitely leads his audience on a merry one.
From the picking of the order of the five plays from a bag of labelled balls by members of the audience in the bar to the final bow – this is a unique theatre experience.
Ayckbourn has always liked a ‘gimmick’ – to play with his audiences’ expectations of live theatre – and here he tests those to the limit. Not that it’s a chore: it is in fact a joy.
There are five plays and we saw them in this order: The Judge, The Novelist, The Politician, The Star and The Agent.
They were by turns poignant, hilarious, thought-provoking, farcical, thrilling, frightening and at least one had a hint of horror. One is the story of an old man hiring a call girl to relive the earliest days of love with his dead wife, one is about a wannabe reality star and another about a woman in debt.
There are obvious links between some of them and in others the associations are more tenuous.
Ambition, love, loss, regret, misunderstanding, misanthropy and marriage are all familiar Ayckbourn themes running through them – and, this time, memory, memories and reminiscences.
The order you see them in will determine, I imagine, the overall experience and mood – a clever way of ensuring some will see Roundelay again and again as there are 120 possible permutations.
The company of actors are outstanding – with Brooke Kinsella as the tart with a heart, Nigel Hastings as an obsequious politician and timid neighbour, Sophie Roberts as the agent and Krystle Hylton as the wannabe star Rox particularly good.
A new Ayckbourn is always an event and this, his 78th new play in his 75th birthday year, is no exception. It is simply brilliant.
It runs at the Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough, until Saturday October 4.