Directed by Corille Fraser
Canberra Repertory Society, Theatre 3
23 November to 8 December 2012
Reviewed by Len Power 23 November 2012
Written by Alan Ayckbourn, this prolific British playwright’s 2005 play, Improbable Fiction’, focuses on a dysfunctional writers’ group where none of the members seem to have much talent for writing – in fact a couple of them don’t seem able to knuckle down and write anything at all. Well-meaning and mild-mannered Arnold convenes the meetings in his home, spending much of the time refereeing for the members of the group who don’t much like each other. And that’s just the beginning…strap yourself in for a surreal and hilarious roller coaster ride, Ayckbourn-style.
Director, Corille Fraser, has produced a fine production with an excellent ensemble cast, ably led by Jerry Hearn as Arnold. The enormous Tudor-style living room set, nicely designed by Wayne Shepherd, takes on a life of its own with ingenious changes as the plot thickens. The set is complemented by Miriam Miley Read’s fun costumes, moody lighting by Chris Ellyard and atmospheric sound effects by Michael Moloney. As well as designing the set, the versatile Wayne Shepherd also found time to compose the original music for the show.
At first, the play seems more detailed than necessary. Stay with it and listen carefully as it’s a setup for what comes later. Having said that, I did have some difficulty hearing clearly what some members of the writing group were saying early in the play, particularly those seated in the meeting circle and facing away from the audience.
While every cast member gave an excellent performance, a special mention must be made of Andrew Kay, who took over the role of the irascible retired school teacher, Brevis, at very short notice from ailing cast member, Jasan Savage. Playing a role in a fast-moving farce is a challenge for actors at the best of times, but doing it superbly with script, book or Kindle in hand as Andrew Kay did on opening night, was a feat to be applauded.
It’s a joy to watch this nimble and expert cast play out this jumble of deliberately bad writing – clichéd Victorian melodrama, appallingly juvenile science fiction, incomprehensible Agatha Christie-style murder mystery, complete with inappropriate poetry and cheesy musical with an occasional instruction manual thrown in. It’s a delight from start to finish.
The strength of Alan Ayckbourn’s writing is displayed both in his finely drawn, only too human characters and his ability to bend the rules of farce without breaking them. If you like a good laugh with recognizable characters, ‘Improbable Fiction’ is just the play for you.
Originally broadcast on Artsound FM 92.7 ‘Dress Circle’ program on Sunday 25 November 2012
Edited copy also published in Canberra City News