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Taking Steps Reviewed, Oldham Coliseum

Joan Davies laughs and giggles but finds a play that's cold at heart

Published on February 21st 2012.

Taking Steps Reviewed, Oldham Coliseum

OLDHAM Coliseum Theatre, taking time out from its usual home while the Fairbottom Street site is refurbished, has decamped to The Grange Arts Centre and taken the opportunity of its theatre-in-the-round space to revive Alan Ayckbourn 1979 year-old face Taking Steps

Despite the cleverness it is not one of Ayckbourn’s most impressive plays. It lacks soul. 

This is a cleverly constructed tale of two couples and a decaying house.  While the house can probably be revived, the two relationships could well be beyond help.  Kitty walked out on Mark at their wedding day, and Elizabeth, Mark’s sister, is about to walk out on Roland, her husband of three and a half months.

As with all farces, there’s confused identity, misread motives, some hiding in cupboards, and a great deal of careful timing. Taking Steps uniquely sets three floors of the house in one space on the stage, only momentarily confusing and a great source of extra humour. The characters take steps up and down the virtual staircases, as well as taking steps to improve their lives. Or not.

The cast is faultless, timing and staging excellent, the laughs regular.  As usual with farce the audience has the advantage of knowing all and is laughing in anticipation of a reaction or discovery. 

Elizabeth, Jackie Morrison, is about to leave her very wealthy husband Roland, John McAndrew. Considerately she has invited her brother Mark, Ben Porter, around to comfort her husband when he discovers she’s left. 

Jackie Morrison as ElizabethJackie Morrison as Elizabeth

Unfortunately Mark has other plans and is about to collect his former fiancee Kitty, Maeve Larkin, from the station and bring her back to the house. Meanwhile Roland is planning to buy the house, currently only rented, and has arranged for the owner Leslie Bainbridge, Martin Miller, and his solicitor to visit the house. The solicitor is indisposed and a young partner Tristram Watson, Anthony Eden, turns up in his place.

Each character has their weaknesses: Elizabeth is vain, self-centred, and nowhere near as good a dancer as she thinks she is, Mark is also self-centred and insufferably dull as well, delivering sleep-inducing monologues to all. 

Roland is a bullying millionaire, desperately searching for a wife who will not leave him and Kitty, from whom we hear very little, is disturbed and aimless, apart from searching for a man who she won’t leave. 

Leslie Bainbridge is a failing business man willing to deceive to avoid losing the business inherited from his more successful father. Tristram is lovely. His only weaknesses are a strong inclination to truthfulness and a weak head for copious measures of alcohol. 

The play's directed for the Coliseum by Robin Herford who performed in the original Scarborough production and subsequent tour which included the Grange Arts Centre. Most of Ayckbourn’s plays were originally produced in the round at Scarborough’s Stephen Joseph Theatre, so the Grange Arts setting provides local audiences with a great opportunity to see Ayckbourn as written, Manchester’s Royal Exchange not being particularly fond of Ayckbourn.

Martin Miller as LeslieMartin Miller as Leslie

Despite the cleverness it is not one of Ayckbourn’s most impressive plays. It lacks soul. The only attractive character is Tristram.  It’s hard to empathise with anyone else. The women are trapped within their relationships to over-dull or over-demanding men, and seem destined not to escape.  But their plight doesn’t attract sympathy; at the very least they owe an explanation to the men they are so keen to desert.  

Designer Michael Holt has produced an impressive three-room overlaid set which works wonderfully well, and crucially lighting and sound by Jason Taylor and Lorna Munden are spot on.

Oldham Coliseum is expected to return to its Fairbottom Street site in October. In the meantime the auditorium has now had all 585 chairs removed for re-seating with the originals being recycled to a variety of other uses and work is underway to improve the heating, air-conditioning and front-of-house arrangements.

Taking Steps, an Oldham Coliseum Theatre Production, plays until 10 March at The Grange Arts Centre, Rochdale Road, Oldham, OL9 6EA

Antony Eden is Tristram and Martin Miller is Leslie and John McAndrew is RolandAntony Eden is Tristram and Martin Miller is Leslie and John McAndrew is Roland

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