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Private Fears in Public Places

The Library Theatre this week launched its new season with an Alan Ayckbourn’s Private Fears in Public Places, a fast paced montage of intersecting lives and intriguing characters…

Published on September 7th 2006.

Private Fears in Public Places
By Alan Ayckbourn

The Library Theatre this week launched its new season with an Alan Ayckbourn’s 67th offering to the stage, Private Fears in Public Places. And as is to be expected, the crowds are flocking like children to a trifle.

Rightly so. Private Fears in Public Places is one excellent trifle, with layer upon layer of flavour, texture and the odd fruity surprise. Centring around the separate lives of six Londoners, all lonely in their own way and reaching out to one another through different means, the play is a darkly comic exploration of communication, connection and commitment in a faceless city.

Feeling more like a film than a play with its short, loaded scenes and lack of an interval, Private Fears in Public Places in so many ways seems to comment on the modern mentality – our short attention spans, our lack of commitment and our varying degrees of human connection.

The characters, seemingly unconnected and disparate, drive the narrative forward as they are brought together in different ways. Leigh Symonds plays Stewart, an estate agent who lives with his homely sister Imogen (Alice James). Leigh is in the process of helping a cosmopolitan couple, Dan (Robert Perkins) and Nicola (Imogen Slaughter) find an apartment. However, ex army Dan prefers to spend his time drinking at a hotel bar and talking to kind hearted barman Ambrose (Malcolm James), whose sickly father is being cared for by Stewart’s intriguing colleague, Charlotte, played by Olwen May. Make sense?

The six strong cast are excellent, and seem perfectly chosen for their varying roles. Each performance is exceptional in its own individual way, making it impossible to single out any one or two actors for praise.

Judith Croft’s terrific set is crucial to the performance, complementing and enhancing the experience. It is made up of different levels and stage areas, removing the need for set changing, with the actors getting themselves into position on stage while another scene is being played out. This allows for scenes of varying lengths, with the more substantial scenes being linked by short, ‘setting up’ scenes.

The backdrop, an abstract photograph montage depicting a block of apartments, represents the compartmentalised feel of the play. Its short scenes, seemingly separate characters and multi layered set, does give the impression of looking at a block of flats, with strangers playing their lives alongside one another with only a wall, floor or ceiling to separate them.

This is an outstanding performance, and is a credit to Chris Honer and the Library Theatre. Engaging, hilarious and fast paced, it rolls on with great fluidity, and not a dry moment from start to finish.

Jayne Robinson
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