Review: ‘An excellent start to the Barn Theatre’s season’

PUBLISHED: 11:10 29 September 2017 | UPDATED: 11:15 02 October 2017

Adam Dryer as Dafydd and David Smith as Ian in A Chorus of Disapproval at the Barn Theatre in Welwyn Garden City [Picture: John Davies]

Adam Dryer as Dafydd and David Smith as Ian in A Chorus of Disapproval at the Barn Theatre in Welwyn Garden City [Picture: John Davies]

John Davies

Maggie Blackburn reviews A Chorus of Disapproval by Alan Ayckbourn at the Barn Theatre in Welwyn Garden City.

Sarah Lodge as Hannah, Kit Allen as Guy, and Louise Bateman as Fay in A Chorus of Disapproval at the Barn Theatre in Welwyn Garden City [Picture: John Davies]Sarah Lodge as Hannah, Kit Allen as Guy, and Louise Bateman as Fay in A Chorus of Disapproval at the Barn Theatre in Welwyn Garden City [Picture: John Davies]

The Barn is opening its current season with A Chorus of Disapproval, one of a series of comedies Alan Ayckbourn wrote in the 1980s that, despite the gales of laughter they generated, were all based on a rather pessimistic, one might even say bleak, view of humanity.

It concerns Guy, a likeable and rather innocent recently widowed man who, finding himself in a new job in a new town, joins the local amateur operatic society in the hope of making new friends.

As indeed he does, first of all getting a very minor part in their production of The Beggar’s Opera, then finding himself in increasingly demanding roles whilst succumbing to the advances of two female members of the group. The end results are not quite what he expects.

This is a slick production, skilfully directed by Dick Breeze, who has cleverly contrived to speed the play through a variety of locations without at any point delaying the action by a second.

A Chorus of Disapproval opens the Barn Theatre seasonA Chorus of Disapproval opens the Barn Theatre season

Fourteen is a big cast for a modern comedy, but they are all always in the right place at the right time.

I can’t of course mention everyone by name, but I must praise Adam Dryer, who plays the director Dafydd ap Llewellyn, for an eccentric interpretation of a truly eccentric character; a solicitor with a brief previous career in the professional theatre, chiefly centred on Minehead.

(Ayckbourn has a genius for finding exactly the right place name to make one laugh).

I couldn’t quite believe that Adam’s profession was the law, but in every other respect he was spot on.

His wife, Hannah, is also played with great skill by Barn newcomer Sara Lodge, and there’s a good double act as the swinging Ian and Fay Hubbard by David Smith and Louise Bateman.

Among the smaller roles I must single out the obnoxious local councillor and businessman Jarvis Huntley-Pike, played with great seriousness and comic effect by Ian Colpitts.

But what holds the play together, and drives it forward, is the central character Guy Jones. Kit Allen convinces us of his honesty, good intentions and innocence – traits that in the end don’t bring him any benefit.

The rest of the cast, though individually each with only a few lines, bring much support to the overall effect by their great performances of choruses from The Beggar’s Opera, with fantastically good musical support from the company’s pianist Mr Ames, a highly successful Barn debut by Graham Bloye.

Overall then an excellent start to the Barn’s season.

I notice that both this and next month’s production have had to put on extra performances to meet the demand for tickets.

The Barn is clearly doing well, and it deserves to: it offers an extraordinarily wide range of plays, both serious and comic, old and new, in what are generally productions of a high standard.

It has been a pleasure to review them: this is my last such effort, for I shall shortly be leaving the area.

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