1 May 2010

Taking Steps at the Orange Tree Theatre

Alan Ayckbourn's Taking Steps makes a welcome return to the Orange Tree Theatre under his own direction.

This is farce in its basic form with a small group of characters interwoven in each other's lives with increasing complexity and confusion to produce genuine laugh-out-loud moments throughout.

The steps that are being taken are those of a new bride leaving her husband but getting in the way of this are her brother, the woman who left him at the alter, the man who owns the house the husband wants to buy, the lawyer from out of town who has come to help with the deal and the ghost of a prostitute.

The plot complications include the return of brother's former fiancée (and the different expectations from this), ghostly noises from old plumbing, and mistakes made with sleeping pills and with the interpretation of notes.

All this happens in a large three story house that is cleverly laid out on one stage.

Here the bed and dressing table (far left) are in the master bedroom on the first floor and the two easy chairs are in the lounge on the ground floor. The little attic room is just off to the left. The (flat) stairs are on two sides of the stage (to the right and ahead).

This imaginative setting introduces its own comedy elements. For example, we can see the wife doing her dancing exercises in the bedroom while the people in the room below look up to see where the noise is coming from when, in real life, they are standing next to her.

This may sound confusing but you quickly get the idea of how it works and it all seems natural after that. Alan Ayckbourn's direction really succeeds here.

The small cast is engaging and (mostly) believable, the hard-working and hard-drinking rich husband particularly so. I also enjoyed the timid ex-fiancee and the incompetent lawyer.

The rich humour came from both the dialogue and, being a farce, characters not being aware of situations that we could all see, e.g. the girl hiding in the attic or the wife trying to sneak down the stairs.

There was a story too and that provided a place-holder for the humour for most of the two hours and twenty minutes before giving up and letting the farce do the work. There was an ending of sorts, or rather several endings as there was a big change for each character. Some of those endings were happy and some less so but they seemed to be more a way to bring the play to a close than to complete the story.

But the lack of a strong or believable story did little or nothing to detract from a play that simply did not need one to be funny. And Taking Steps was very funny.

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