Off to the Theatre Royal in Northampton to see my friend Kim in a really well staged revival of Alan Ayckbourn's Private Fears in Public Places.
The play is unlike anything else of Ayckbourn's that I've seen - a filmic, episodic amusement on loneliness and secrecy in the modern city that had more in common with Patrick Marber's Closer and David Mamet's Sexual Perversity in Chicago than the comedies of manners and class aspiration that I'd usually associate him with. Although, as ever, social hypocrisy is the driving force.
Six characters all trying to find the key, normally another person, to allow them happiness. They lie, pretend, make plans, drink, forget, flirt and ultimately return to their lives unchanged by a string of tiny regrets and failures. There is a parallel with Time and the Conways. The sense that a fixed ambition, that doesn't allow circumstance or opportunity to bend it, is bound to lead to disappointment.
The only character who seems not to desire personal change is Charlotte, played by Lucy Briers, a fundamentalist Christian estate agent and part-time carer; half devil, half angel, who lends her friends and colleagues pornographic videos of herself in action, labelled as religious programmes. She is fully aware that the latex fantasy she offers brings private relief and pleasure, but is equally secure that in the confused world none will have the courage or intimacy to challenge her bible reading persona. Maybe her desire, or hope for salvation, is to be called, but in this play moral ambiguity and confusion are the only certainties.
Once again the production threw actors and audience together in the same space, which supported the swift scene changes and immersed us in the action. The playing was noticeably controlled and subtle to cope with this proximic and whilst this meant we were never in belly laugh territory it did bring a tender humanity to the production, which normalised even Charlotte's outrageous behaviour... anyway Sir Alan's far too clever a structuralist, not to bring the audience with him.
Kim was great as the stoic barman Ambrose, whose duty of care for both his dying father and his customers deny him any chance exploring his own feelings. It was lovely to see both him and this intriguing play.