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Improbable Fiction

Published by: Clare Brotherwood on 17th Mar 2017 | View all blogs by Clare Brotherwood

Well, this production certainly isn’t run of the mill (excuse the pun). In fact, the best way to describe it is that it is weird and wonderful.

Alan Ayckbourn’s observational skills are legendary and turn mundane domestic lives into celebrated comedies. But his 69th play, first performed in 2005, couldn’t be wackier.

I really don’t want to give too much of the plot away as the element of surprise is electrifying. But it involves a writing group and the stories they are writing or the ideas they are having, however well or badly these are and however well or badly they are developing the characters.

It’s a stroke of genius.

I had looked upon the first act as an introduction to a group of rather mismatched, sad characters who all have crosses to bear.

Arnold, who is hosting the meeting while having his bedridden mother banging on the floor every so often, tries his best to keep everyone happy, but he’s got his work cut out, what with cynical Jess (Julie Teal), insecure Grace (Angela Sims), creepy Clem (Ben Porter), and volatile Brevis (Laurence Kennedy). Only vivacious Vivvi (Sarah Lawrie) and sweet Ilsa (Rhiannon Handy) lighten the proceedings. But it was as if they were all treading water and I knew it couldn’t continue. As the interval approached I wrote in my notebook ‘I have no idea what is to come’. And what does happen you could never imagine!

It’s a complicated piece for every member of this sterling cast. Only Andrew Bone remains the likeable but somewhat confused Arnold who, nevertheless, has to deal with events beyond anyone but Alan Ayckbourn’s imagination. Everyone has to work so hard in so many different areas, from playing different characters from different time zones, which means adopting different mannerisms and ways of speaking, to the quickest costume changes I’ve ever encountered. There isn’t even any respite for Matthew Biss on lighting.

I don’t know how long I’ve been reviewing at The Mill but it’s got to be around 15 years, so before I move to Edinburgh to continue reviewing and to be a theatrical landlady I had hoped my last visit would be particularly memorable. And thanks to Ayckbourn veteran, director Robin Herford and his amazing cast, it was. But then, the Mill’s productions usually are. People come from miles around (the couple sitting next to me had travelled 46 miles from Bicester) to experience the dinner theatre’s award-winning hospitality, and I wholeheartedly thank artistic director Sally Hughes, marketing and administration officer Vanessa Hicks and the rest of the staff for so many years of unadulterated pleasure.

Improbable Fiction is at The Mill at Sonning until May 6.

Box office: 0118 969 8000



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