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If I Were You

Nicola Mostyn enjoys Ayckbourn ’s dual take on domestic disharmony

Published on June 9th 2008.

If I Were You

If I Were You is Alan Ayckbourn seventieth play. He certainly knows his territory- the frustrations that exist between married couples, the secrets that lie behind suburban windows and with main characters Mal and Jill Rodale, the playwright delivers plenty of both.

“A fresh take on a dysfunctional suburban scene, and resulting in a funny, perceptive and strangely uplifting take on the mid-life crisis”

Mal is a pig-headed, blokey department store manager with little time for his put-upon wife and even less for his thespian-inclined son, Sam. His wife, Jill, is wan, worn out and worried about her daughter, Chrissie, who, in husband Dean, seems to have married a carbon cut-out of her father. As husband and wife battle, their perspectives seem permanently opposed. Can anything make them understand the other?

The set of bedroom, kitchen and living room is cleverly used in this production, directed by Chris Honer, with the furniture serving both for the Rodale’s home and for the store’s departments, which allows the action to flow. As the first half progresses, the characters establish their roles, and their antagonisms: the two women come together to complain about the men, the men shake their heads at the demands of women, the genders set against each other in a way which is comical and candid, though initially feels a little hackneyed.

But stick with it. As the first act comes to a close, the production delivers something rather unexpected which sets up the action for a hilarious, innovative and insightful second half.

This is a demanding play for its two main actors Bill Champion (Mal) and Mariel Scolfield (Jill) but they rise to the challenge with gusto, clearly enjoying themselves, a sentiment which is soon shared by the audience. All the cast are strong but I particularly liked Arthur Wilson as Sam, who appeared as Tom in the Library’s Festive production of Tom’s Midnight Garden, and who is as likeable as the Rodale's good-hearted, disenchanted son as he was as the time-travelling boy.

If I Were You is a tightly written piece of work, and while the subject matter of male-female differences is hardly groundbreaking, Ayckbourn’s knack for teasing out the details – how the way a partner clears his throat can enrage one, for example, or how parents expect their children to improve on their own lives – makes for compelling viewing and received lots of knowing laughs from the mostly mature audience I was amongst. The attitude of the kids, too, is well realised, such as grown up daughter Christine’s fear that her parents might split up, or teenage Sam’s jaded yet resilient acceptance of his father as the enemy.

Being innovative within the realm of such social observations is no easy feat and, admittedly, the device the playwright employs to tease out the laughs in the second act is not new, though it’s perhaps more familiar to film audiences than to theatre-goers. But it works wonderfully here, offering a fresh take on a dysfunctional suburban scene, and resulting in a funny, perceptive and strangely uplifting take on the mid-life crisis – but not as you know it.

If I Were You, until June 21, The Library Theatre, Library Theatre, Central Library, St. Peter’s Square, Manchester, M2 5PD. 0161 236 7110.

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