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Joking Apart


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A: Alan Ayckbourn Pf: 1978, Scarborough Pb: 1979 G: Com. in 2 acts S: English garden, 1966–78 C: 4m, 7f (4 roles to be played by same actress)Richard Clarke and Anthea, a divorcee with two children, are a charming and successful couple in their twenties. They have invited people to their bonfire party: their new neighbours, Revd Hugh and Louise Emerson, their old friend Brian with his latest girlfriend Melody, and Sven and Olive Holmenson. Sven, a rather self-important Finn, is Richard's business colleague in a firm of importers of Scandinavian household goods, and Brian works for them. Melody is unhappy, because Brian is still in love with Anthea. Four years later, Brian is visiting with a new girlfriend Mandy (played by the same actress as Melody). Sven is worried because Richard keeps making unilateral decisions in their firm, although they always work out well. Sven warns the other guests that Richard and Anthea are dangerous, because ‘they have to take people over’. On Boxing Day four years later, everyone is gathered again, Brian having brought Mo this time. Sven envies Richard for his flair in business, and Hugh confesses to having fallen in love with Anthea. A further four years on, and Richard and Anthea are organizing a party for their daughter Debbie's birthday. Sven is now suffering from a heart condition and is depressed by Richard's continuing brilliance. Hugh is miserable, his wife is on drugs. Brian dyes his hair and hopes that Debbie may pay him some attention – but in vain.

A: Alan Ayckbourn Pf: 1978, Scarborough Pb: 1979 G: Com. in 2 acts S: English garden, 1966–78 C: 4m, 7f (4 roles to be played by same actress)

The common comparison of Ayckbourn with Chekhov is particularly apposite here. Characters come and go, but virtually nothing happens. The interest lies in the way that the attractive and happy partnership of Anthea and Richard, a model of the success of bungling English pragmatism, sucks on the happiness of all their friends like a leech. But as Richard says to Sven: ‘I don't quite see what I'm supposed to do.’

Subjects: Literary Studies (Plays and Playwrights).


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Alan Ayckbourn (b. 1939) English dramatist


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