Play reading: A Chorus of Disapproval

This week, in the first of our two play readings, we tackled A Chorus of Disapproval by Alan Ayckbourn. The play was familiar to a couple of long-standing ALP members, who were involved when it was staged by the group nearly two decades ago.

A Chorus of Disapproval begins with a youngish widower, Guy Jones, joining the Pendon Amateur Light Operatic Society as they begin rehearsals for The Beggar’s Opera. The play follows Guy as he manages to progress through the cast, all the while negotiating love affairs and the internal politics of the group.

There were far more laughs had from this play reading than from the previous two Ayckbourn plays read over the last few months (Relatively Speaking and How the Other Half Loves). People enjoyed the imagery and the fact that there were lots of small parts, which made the play feel inclusive. While there are two or three bigger parts, it was felt that each actor would have a place in the play where they and their character could shine.

There was a question raised about whether an audience would get as much enjoyment out of the play as those reading the play within the ALP; the setting and some (though, we hasten to add, not all!) of the internal struggles within the group were recognisable to us and were therefore funnier as a result. However, the group came to a consensus that there is enough humour not particular to an amateur dramatics group to be accessible to a wider audience.

Although people felt it would be a great play to be involved with, a couple of difficulties did present themselves. One was the issue of the staging; several scene changes are quick and it was agreed that the play did not lend itself to the traditional box set. No complete solutions were mooted at the reading, but it is clear that any staging of A Chorus of Disapproval would have to be planned very carefully and cannily.

Another point raised was that of the singing – several tunes are included within the play, most from the group’s staging of The Beggar’s Opera. As the group is an amateur one, the singing would not have to be perfect, but someone quite rightly pointed out that it would need to be of an acceptable standard in order to keep the audience entertained. The character of Mr Ames, the piano player for Palos, was suggested as a role for the MD for the production.

Despite the difficulties in staging A Chorus of Disapproval, people were generally optimistic about the play. It seems that the humour, warmth and good pacing that Ayckbourn injected into the piece were able to overcome the difficulties putting on the play might present.

What do you think? Let us know if you’ve read or seen A Chorus of Disapproval and want to agree or disagree with anything written here.

Future play readings:

  • And a Nightingale Sang  by C.P. Taylor – Thursday 29 August, 8pm

Play reading: Relatively Speaking

On 6 August, a small group of us convened in the Barn to read Relatively Speaking by Alan Ayckbourn. It was a new play for many of the people present, including those who were familiar with other Ayckbourn works.

The play centres around two couples: Greg and Ginny – a young, in-love pair whose relationship is marred by Greg’s suspicion that he may not be Ginny’s only paramour – and Philip and Sheila – an older couple; Sheila may have had an affair, Philip most certainly has had extra-marital relations…with Ginny. When Ginny tells Greg a lie about where she is headed that day, the result – involving both couples – is classic farce, including mistaken identities; improbable, absurd conversations and several plot twists.

The initial reaction to Relatively Speaking among those in the group who know, or have performed in, other Ayckbourn plays was that it didn’t feel like an Ayckbourn. In particular, it was felt that Relatively Speaking lacked a sinister touch that lurks in other Ayckbourn works.

It is possible that the reason for this lies in the impetus behind the play, which was, as Ayckbourn mentions in his introduction to the play, to write a piece “which would make people laugh when their seaside holidays were spoiled by the rain and they came into the theatre to get dry before trudging back to their landladies”.

Despite this, it was noted that the rhythm of the play and the characterisation were what would be expected from an Ayckbourn piece.

Laughs were had at our play reading, but the humour was sparser than expected – we had a discussion about whether this was down to the pacing, which obviously would not be quite right during an initial reading. It was clear that it would need to be performed very quickly and fast-paced, but someone brought up the point that the play seemed to start off rather slowly – this is something that had been picked up on during another Ayckbourn reading.

It was felt that this was a deliberate move on Ayckbourn’s part, giving the audience time to get to know the characters before moving the action up a gear.

Another criticism levelled at Relatively Speaking was that it was, in the main, rather predictable. Many expressed a preference for other Ayckbourn works compared to this. One member of the group went slightly further, and asked whether audiences have grown out of Ayckbourn entirely as time and sensibilities have moved on.

In his introduction to Relatively Speaking, Ayckbourn notes: “In general, the people who liked this play when it was first seen remarked that it was ‘well constructed’; those that didn’t called it old-fashioned.”

Based on the views of those at the play reading on Tuesday, it could be argued that both of those opinions of Relatively Speaking hold true on a contemporary reading.

What do you think? Let us know if you’ve read or seen Relatively Speaking and want to agree or disagree with anything written here.

Future play readings:

  • A Letter from the General  by Maurice McLoughlin – Tuesday 13 August, 8pm
  • Female Transport  by Steve Gooch – Tuesday 20 August, 8pm
  • A Chorus of Disapproval  by Alan Ayckbourn – Tuesday 27 August, 8pm