The Barn Theatre, Southwick Community Centre.
January 8, 9, 10 & 11, 2014.
Life & Beth
by Alan Ayckbourn
Hazel Starns – Beth
Zoë Edden – Connie
Dan Dryer – David
Tom Harris – Martin
Sophie Lane – Ella
David Peaty – Gordon
Stage Manager – Zoey Attree
Deputy Stage Manager – Terri Challis
Lighting – Martin Oakley
Sound – Brian Jones
Properties – Anita Shipton
Properties – Di Tidzer
Wardrobe – Margaret Pierce
Wardrobe – Cherry Briggs
Set Construction & Painting – Sue Chaplin
Set Construction & Painting – John Cole
Set Construction & Painting – David Comber
Set Construction & Painting – David Collis
Set Construction & Painting – Nigel Goldfinch
Set Construction & Painting – Carl Gray
Set Construction & Painting – Margaret Davy
Set Construction & Painting – Sheila Neesham
Set Construction & Painting – Martin Oakley
Publicity – Anna Quick
Publicity – Margaret Pierce
Publicity – Rosemary Bouchy
Publicity – Judith Berrill
Front of House – Betty Dawes
Programme Note #1: Life & Beth
BR wrote: ” Sir Alan Ayckbourn has worked for more than 50 years as a playwright and theatre director, He is remarkably prolific and popular. To date he has written 78 plays, translated into more that 30 languages, performed on stage and television throughout the world, winning 35 major awards at the last count. All but four of his plays have been premiered in his home town of Scarborough, where he was artistic director of the Stephen Joseph Theatre for 37 years.
In 2006 Alan Ayckbourn suffered a stroke, which threatened to end his active career in the theatre. As he recovered, he initially focussed on resuming work as a director, but was not ready to write again for 18 months. Then on Christmas eve 2007, he announced a new work which would mark his return as a playwright – Life & Beth.
The play was presented as part of the 2008 summer programme in Scarborough, alongside revivals of two earlier Ayckbourn plays, Haunting Julia and Snake in the Grass. There was a loose connection between the themes of Life & Beth and the other two plays, as each has a supernatural element and each tells us something about the ways in which parents affect their children’s lives. The other connection was a good old-fashioned ‘repertory’ consideration – Haunting Julia has a cast of three men, Snake in the Grass has a cast of three women, and the cast of Life & Beth employed the same six actors!
Life & Beth is a consciously light play, where the ghostly elements have a playful echo of Blithe Spirit. But the theme of children being moulded (badly) by their fathers, down the generations, gives a darker edge to the comedy – with the sense that it’s the women who get the worst of the deal. The nice thing, ultimately, is we see Beth rising above the situation. By the end of the play, she seems ready to start a new and more fulfilling life, without the worst trappings of the family’s past.
Alan Ayckbourn has a genius for creating fine comedy from the unlikeliest of ingredients. Life & Beth bears the hall marks of his vintage writing – eccentric characters, bizarre comic situations, and a wicked sense of humour.
Publicity #1: Life & Beth
Publication: Shoreham Herald
Publication Data: January 9 2014 – page 41
Text Header: Christmas chaos with hubby’s ghostly return
A dose of Acykbourn with a slice of the supernatural gets the New Year underway as Wick Theatre Company presents Life & Beth.
The piece is one of Acykbourn’s most recent plays, but with all the hallmarks of his vintage writing – eccentric characters, bizarre comic situations and a wicked sense of humour, all wrapped up in a life-affirming ghost story.
It is Christmas Eve, the first holiday since Beth Timms lost her husband, and she is looking forward to a quiet Christmas alone. But the peace is soon destroyed by unwelcome guests and visitors, all maddening in their various ways.
A bumbling vicar accidentally raises the ghost of Beth’s late husband – and the last person you want haunting you is a health and safety office from beyond the grave. Throw in a moaning drunken sister-in-law, an excruciating son and his dysfunctional girlfriend, and you have the hilarity of a Christmas from hell.
Getting the piece ready for the New Year has been quite a demand, admits Bob Ryder: “It means that we were rehearsing on New Year’s Day, and it also means logistical problems. The cast and other people needed to get their Christmas shopping done and didn’t want to rehearse between Christmas and the New Year. You have got weeks missing in the schedule, but the timing is really a deal with other users of the Barn.”
But the reward is the enjoyment of a great writer: “With Acykbourn, it is sheer quality of the writing that you get, and this one is a particularly interesting choice. It takes place at Christmas with all the family stresses and strains that go with that, but it is also a sort of ghost story at Christmas. It is a sort of Blithe Spirit, and I don’t think that is a coincidence. Acykbourn is using the device of the husband coming back after the well-intentioned intervention of the vicar. The husband is a health and safety officer, and we find out that this man has been returned by heaven because he is driving them all nuts trying to reorganise their systems up there. At the first excuse, they have sent him back.
The vicar is one of those typical Acykbourn characters, a nice man but rather bumbling. He is visiting the recently-widowed wife, and maybe he has a slight crush on her. He appears quite unexpectedly, and he unburdens himself with his take on love and life.
The rsts of the family come in, and he drags them into a prayer that rather over-eggs it, and that’s enough for the powers above to send the husband back at the first chance they get!”
Bob added: “I love the classic Acykbourn comedies from the 70s and 80s, and there are lots of echoes of that in here. It is a situation comedy that is based around recognisable characters being pushed too far at Christmas. They are maddening in their various ways, and Acykbourn just draws it all out.
In the 90s, Acykbourn experimented with some futuristic or sci-fi things or other layers of different things going on simultaneously. He has been looking at form in different ways. With this one, he was quite ill a year before he wrote this play. They thought he wasn’t going to work again, but this one was the first one he came back with.”
Review #1: Life & Beth
Publication: Shoreham Herald
Publication Data: January 16 2014 issue – page 28
Reviewer: Joel Hammond
Text Header: “Hilarious portrayal of family Christmas”
JUST when we thought Christmas was over, Wick Theatre Company brought a reminder of the family horrors that can dominate the festive season.
Alan Ayckbourn’s Life and Beth was performed at Southwick’s Barn Theatre from last Wednesday to Saturday, close enough to Christmas and new year to be relevant. The first work he wrote following his stroke in 2006, it is one of his most up-to-date works and proves the prolific writer still has that unending ability to find the best and worst of ordinary people and present it in a way we can all understand. In Life and Beth, we see all the relatives you probably would not want around your dinner table – an annoying sister-in-law who drinks herself into a stupor, a well-meaning vicar who just doesn’t seem to listen, a cocky son and his silent ‘friend’ bristling with resentment. Oh, yes, and the ghost of an irritating husband, who gets thrown into the mix when the vicar accidentally resurrects him from the dead. In some ways, there were scenes it felt like we had seen elsewhere but that is the genius of Ayckbourn, to bring the everyday to the stage and leaving you sure you’ve experienced the same yourself along the way. Except for the ghost maybe!
Poor old Beth had her work cut out for her and we saw Zoë Edden [sic] grow in the part from the understanding, patient widow to a woman who was not going to stand any nonsense. Hazel Starns [sic] as sister-in-law Connie was just brilliant, and personally, I would have had enough of her in the first ten minutes if she was at my Christmas! Hazel portrayed her perfectly, all “oh, don’t worry about me” as she revealed her family had favoured her brother Gordon. Sophie Lane as Ella also showed some excellent qualities for a young actress. As the ‘friend’ of Beth’s son, Martin [Tom Harris], not one word came out of her mouth but her actions spoke volumes. It takes some skill to give us all we need to now [sic] without saying a word. Dan Dryer was hilarious as the vicar, David, and he was fed some great lines by Ayckbourn. David Peaty, too, brought some great laughs as Gordon.
Praise must also go to the set designers. A very impressive set and nice to see a bit of community spirit, with Emmaus Brighton and Hove helping with furniture.
The one character not mentioned in the cast, because we never actually see him as such, is the cat Wagstaff. We don’t see the creature but we certainly see the effects of his presence, a challenge the set crew rose to as the Christmas tree went flying and crockery knocked over thanks to the moggy. Everyone in the play, apart from Beth, believes she cannot live without Gordon. Perhaps it is actually Wagstaff who she really can’t live without?
Review #2: Life & Beth
Publication: Brighton Argus
Publication Data: January 10 2014
Reviewer: Barrie Jerram
When it comes to understanding female feelings Alan Ayckbourn is a perceptive writer. Such understanding is amply demonstrated in Life And Beth.
Having lost her husband, Beth is facing her first Christmas alone – that is apart from her alcoholic sister-in-law, her ghastly son trying to fill the shoes of his equally obnoxious father, his terrified girlfriend and the visiting vicar.
Each mistakenly believes that Beth’s marriage was idyllic and that she is heartbroken at her loss. Quite the contrary, having endured years of being treated as the helpless little woman, she is delighted to be shot of him.
Typically bittersweet Ayckbourn – we laugh at every character’s flaw but at the same time feel guilty for doing so.
The production is a fusion of strong direction and quality acting. Hazel Starns’ Beth is underplayed to perfection, quietly suffering the well-meaning actions and platitudes. David Peaty and Tom Harris fully capture the repulsiveness of father and son. Dan Dryer’s vicar is beautifully understated and although Sophie never speaks, she ably expresses her thoughts visually.
Zoë Edden almost steals the show as alcoholic Connie. Her body language and facial expressions speak volumes in a performance full of subtle nuances.