“…the real world where heroes are easily forgotten”
Don’t miss this one!
Man of the Moment is Ayckbourn in the swim and at his very best. Sharply observed and keenly characterised, this master craftsman of the stage cleverly sets about examining the way in which the media mangles moral perception.
The play originally opened in London in 1990 and starred Michael Gambon as mild mannered Douglas and Peter Bowles as wide boy, bank robber Vic.
The subject matter is extremely dark, but it is so funny that you find yourself laughing out loud when you know you shouldn't.
With a real swimming pool as its centerpiece, this play will run you through the full gamut of emotions and leave you delighted that you set aside this date in your diary!
This Alan Ayckbourn play, his 35th, was written over twenty years ago. So the remark sometimes heard when one of his plays is to be performed, ‘but they’re so dated’, might contain more than a grain of truth. Yet the theme of Man of the Moment, the making of a television docu-drama, including a pushy presenter primarily interested in enhancing her own career, about two men meeting again for the first time in seventeen years for an episode in a series called Their Paths Crossed, is so contemporary that you could be forgiven for checking the current TV schedules.
The men of the moment, and surely there is more than one, are a complacent thug, Vic Parks, whose armed raid on a bank in Purley, Surrey, all those years ago was foiled by the unexpected have-a-go heroics of a timid bank clerk, Douglas Beechey, who subsequently became the subject of mass media attention. The boot now is firmly on the other foot as Vic, in his ostentatious villa in Spain, has, since leaving prison, built a career as a hard-man and is now a B-list celeb with his own TV show. How many of those jostle for space on our small screens every night?
To ensure the audience is constantly aware that the play is about a programme being made for TV, the presenter, Jill Rillington, links the scenes, introduces the characters she has brought together, and plays the part, as it were, of narrator. In this role Sandy Truman was gung-ho and OTT but whether such an in-your-face approach would have enhanced the viewing figures is questionable. Derek Watts, as Vic, in gaudy shirt and espadrilles, displayed ingratiating bonhomie, truculent self-righteousness and grotesque bully-boy tactics, especially towards his wife, childrens’ nanny and the servants. Costa del Crime personified.
John Whitley, as Douglas, with stooped shoulders and furrowed brow but oblivious, in jacket and tie, of the Mediterranean sun, epitomized stilted, suburban decency, not least when Vic, describing firing his shotgun at the pretty girl in the bank later to become Douglas’s wife, “It was a miracle she didn’t lose an eye. I thank God for that”. To which Douglas courteously replies, after an exquisitely timed pause, “She did lose her ear, though”. Whilst this exchange rocked the theatre with laughter it also pointed up the macabre undertones which lurk beneath the surface of Ayckbourn’s work.
Vic’s wife, Trudy, a savvy Cockney bimbo tolerant of her husband’s philandering, was convincingly played by Lyndsey Meer. When she talked to Douglas, with the sounds of Tammy Wynette drifting across the terrace in the sunset, before impetuously kissing him on the lips, it was one moment of honesty in a play brimming with hypocrisy. As Kenny, Vic’s manager, Alan Chapman was suitably compliant if not quite as limp-wristed as Vic’s description of him suggested; and Frances S. Wood bravely played the nanny, Sharon, in a manner so unbelievably tolerant of Vic’s fat-girl jibes that she seemed ready to explode if subjected to further insults. In the cameo role of Ruy, the gardener, Don Faulkner more than once came close to stealing the show, most memorably when pulled off his feet by his own watering hose and dragged into the pool!
The set, reminiscent of David Hockney’s Californian “Splash” paintings, was realistic and beautifully lit. Constructed by Geoff Parker and a host of talented volunteers and professionals, it included a tiled and filtrated swimming pool containing eight tons of water.
This was a masterpiece of technical expertise in a confined space unobtrusively stage-managed by Don Funnell. For Keith Gilbert, on his directorial debut, it must have been rather like (pun intended) jumping in at the deep end. To his credit, and that of many others who helped make it all possible, he emerged triumphant. Whether he felt quite as exultant as a wet-suit clad Sharon gleefully standing on Vic’s head in the pool is another matter.
In the final scene the switch from reality back to actors in the studio, played with aplomb by the shadow cast, was seamless. Anthony Bannister, as floor manager, Ashley, exhorts the audience to give the TV show their “warmest applause”. At the end of this production they really did not need any such encouragement.