Neighbourhood Watch is ‘hugely entertaining’ at the Barn Theatre

PUBLISHED: 16:47 01 October 2018 | UPDATED: 07:06 02 October 2018

Linda Vincent as Hilda and Chris White as Gareth in Neighbourhood Watch at the Barn Theatre in Welwyn Garden City. Picture: John Davies.

Linda Vincent as Hilda and Chris White as Gareth in Neighbourhood Watch at the Barn Theatre in Welwyn Garden City. Picture: John Davies.

John Davies

Emily Perry reviews the Barn Theatre’s production of Alan Ayckbourn’s Neighbourhood Watch, which can be seen in Welwyn Garden City this week.

Mary Goodfellow as Dorothy, Hazel Halliday as Magda, and Dick Breeze as Rod in Neighbourhood Watch at the Barn Theatre in Welwyn Garden City. Picture: John Davies.Mary Goodfellow as Dorothy, Hazel Halliday as Magda, and Dick Breeze as Rod in Neighbourhood Watch at the Barn Theatre in Welwyn Garden City. Picture: John Davies.

I have just returned from the Stephen Joseph Theatre in Scarborough, where I saw Better Off Dead, Ayckbourn’s 82nd play.

Now I am back at the Barn Theatre to see an earlier one, Neighbourhood Watch, which I believe was his 75th.

Even though I have watched two of his plays just a couple of days apart, and have a huge respect for the work, I have to confess that I am not a massive fan.

I was taken to his plays by my late father, a Yorkshireman and big fan of Alan Ayckbourn, so I have a sentimental attachment, coupled with the feeling of not expecting to enjoy it too much.

Godfrey Marriott as Martin and Christopher Wallace as Luther in Neighbourhood Watch at the Barn Theatre in Welwyn Garden City. Picture: John Davies.Godfrey Marriott as Martin and Christopher Wallace as Luther in Neighbourhood Watch at the Barn Theatre in Welwyn Garden City. Picture: John Davies.

However, I found this production, directed by Bob Thomson, hugely entertaining.

Neighbourhood Watch has all the recognisable Ayckbourn features, character driven and hilariously funny, with plenty of subtext.

The characters in this, one of his later plays, are recognisably real people, a little more complex, I think, than usual, and with a rather more sinister edge.

I seem to remember that Ayckbourn referred to it as his ‘dark farce’.

Ruth Heppelthwaite as Amy and Godfrey Marriott as Martin in Neighbourhood Watch at the Barn Theatre in Welwyn Garden City. Picture: John Davies.Ruth Heppelthwaite as Amy and Godfrey Marriott as Martin in Neighbourhood Watch at the Barn Theatre in Welwyn Garden City. Picture: John Davies.

The play begins with Hilda Massie (Linda Vincent) opening a park in memory of her deceased brother Martin Massie.

Martin (great performance from Godfrey Marriott) is our main character who, through his passion to run a Neighbourhood Watch scheme, brings about his own downfall.

We watch events take a dark turn as the cast present utterly believable characters with fine comic timing – not as easy as it looks.

This is a thoroughly rehearsed, well directed piece, which shows in its pace and energy – so vital to a farce.

In particular, I enjoyed the supporting roles of Dorothy Doggett (Mary Goodfellow) and Rod Trusser (Dick Breeze).

They are not a couple, but are often paired in the play, to bring the humour, gossip and judgemental tones which we know exist in all neighbours!

Ayckbourn manages to not only highlight characters we recognise, he magnifies their human flaws.

He also taps into the zeitgeist, in this case presenting a piece about people defending their homes, and where the law sits with these situations.

Neighbourhood Watch reminds us of the joys of community committee meetings. Maybe you are someone who enjoys them, gets stuck in and embraces all that they bring or maybe you are someone who is wary.

My point is that we have all met a Martin Massie, a Rod Trusser and while we laugh there is a tiny part of us that cringes, which is, of course, Ayckbourn’s intention.

Neighbourhood Watch plays at the Barn Theatre in Handside Lane, WGC, until Saturday, October 6.

Evening performances are at 8pm, with a 2.30pm matinee on Saturday.

Tickets cost £13 and are available from the Barn online at www.barntheatre.co.uk or by calling the box office on 01707 324300.

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