Taking Steps

by Alan Ayckbourn, Ensemble Theatre, 23 Nov 2017 – 13 Jan 2018. Directed by Mark Kilmurry.

Photo : Prudence Upton.

I know I’m in a minority, but I’m not a great fan of Alan Ayckbourn’s style. Nevertheless, I went along to see Taking Steps with a relatively open mind. I say ‘relatively’ because I was a little bemused about why a play requiring a three-storey set had been selected for the restricted stage of the Ensemble theatre. My concern was confirmed.

The attempt by designer Anna Gardiner to ‘imagine’ three storeys by dividing the stage into three rooms separated by the suggestion of stair railings and having the actors ‘prance’ along the imaginary stairs may have been funny for some of the audience. For me (and others), it just didn’t work!

One of the main premises of the play is based on the deficiencies – plumbing noises, leaks, squeaking floorboards – of the building which the landlord, Leslie (Andrew Tighe) is trying to sell to the existing tenants Roland (Peter Krowitz) and his wife Elizabeth (Christa Nicola) who has left a note to Roland informing him that she is leaving him.

Elizabeth’s brother, Mark (Simon London) knows of the note, but is more concerned about his fiancée, Kitty (Emma Harvie) who has returned, having run out on him on their wedding day. Simon takes her into the vacant attic room without informing the others of her presence. A bumbling solicitor, Mr Watson (Drew Livingston) is attempting to finalise the sale of the house.

Photo : Prudence Upton.

In typical Ayckbourn style, everything becomes confused – and in normal circumstances the running up and down the stairs from one level to another would be one of the highlights of the play. In this production, the ‘prancing’ along the imaginary stairs seems silly rather than funny and, to a certain extent, demeans some of the characters and the plot.

Despite this, the almost farcical scenes in the second act give the cast the chance to make full use of their comedic skills. The pace is fast and the sight gags and pratfalls work.

The characters are the stock characters one also expects of Ayckbourn – idiosyncratic, eccentric, a bit quirky. Kowitz, Tighe and Livingston typify each of these and together have some very funny scenes. London plays the confused, bewildered bore effectively. The two female characters are less cleverly written, but Christa Nicola makes the most of Lizzy’s flourishes and Emma Harvie finds quiet humour in the awkward confusion of Kitty.

Though there were noticeably some empty seats after interval, most of those who persevered seemed to enjoy the faster tempo and humour of the second half of the production.