Alan Ayckbourn’s 87th play makes masterly use of time, space and the audience’s imaginations. Set in the living room of a middle-class south London home, it presents the experiences of three generations of women in one family, reflecting through them wider social changes in the world beyond.
The action is set in three distinct time frames: 1952, 1992 and 2022. Characters from each period appear in the same space at the same time, but are not aware of one another. Through this layering, Ayckbourn (who also directs) and his terrific team of actors and creatives make a sort of visual music, as objects, movements and actions echo across time, amplifying the text. The overall effect is sometimes funny, sometimes moving, sometimes both together; always stimulating.
I’ll sketch some brief examples. Arriving in the empty house, in 1952, full of hope, Margaret (Georgia Burnell) has the removal men site her parents’ Victorian sofa in front of the window, so she can enjoy the view. “Don’t listen to her!” barks her husband, John (Antony Eden), instructing them to reposition it. Margaret’s horizons – domestic and metaphorical – close down. Their daughter, Sandra (Frances Marshall), is talented; will John give her the same education as her brother? “Waste of time!” he declares.
While her parents are speaking, we watch the adult, 1992 Sandra stagger drunkenly across the room (as tragic here as earlier she was hilarious, frantically yo-yoing between an offstage children’s party and her absent husband’s lying phone calls). Meanwhile, in 2022, Sandra’s daughter, Alison (Elizabeth Boag), has inherited the house. She and her wife, Jess (Tanya-Loretta Dee), are preparing to move out. The couple’s relationship offers evidence that change is possible, and suggests hope for the future. As Alison leaves the empty house, though, sloughing off her physical legacy, a question hovers: will her psychic legacy be so easily left behind?