reviewed at the Gordon Craig Theatre, Stevenage on 9 May
“The road to hell is paved with good intentions” – the proverb sums up one of Ayckbourn’s darkest comedies Neighbourhood Watch. It has been revived in a new production by Catherine Lomax which builds slowly to a dénouement not completely foreshadowed in the prologue.
The climax even so is not necessarily what the audience might expect from the epilogue. Both are spoken by Catherine McDonough’s Hilda Massie, the devout spinster sister who moved with her sibling to the Bluebell Hill Development some months earlier in search of tranquility and pleasant neighbours.
Martin (Ben Eagle) and Hilda have invited these neighbours to their housewarming, but the guests soon make it clear that this apparent Eden is menaced by a “sink” estate close by.
Most vociferous are retired security man Rod Trusser (Paul Lavers) and former local newspaper contributor Dorothy Doggett (Sarah Simpkins), a woman with a nose for scandalous gossip.
Brash Luther Bradley (Richie Daysh) and his abused (verbally and physically) wife Magda (Elsie Fallon) soon make their presence felt. The Jenners – Amy and Gareth – have a very odd relationship. He is an engineer with an interest of medieval forms of punishment. She is a free spirit and somewhat promiscuous.
Victoria Fitz-Gerald and Adam Storey make the most of these characters as we watch the real personalities emerge from their initial appearances. Egged on by Trusser, Martin starts a Neighbourhood Watch scheme which rapidly segues into downright vigilantism.
Faith and (a perhaps natural) authortativeness are the keynotes of Martin’s character; Eagle shows us that the man is not simply a study in sharp contrasts but a potentially rounded human being mis-shaped over the years into a partial caricature of what might, and should, have been.
Ayckbourn has made Magda into one of his little white-mouse wives familiar from other of hs comedies with bite. Fallon paces this very well as the women close ranks to succour her. McDonough’s Hilda is a type we have probably all encountered at same point; she shares a sense of worthiness – not to say, downright obstinacy – with her brother.
Four star rating.
Neighbourhood Watch runs at the Gordon Craig Theatre, Stevenage until 12 may with matinées on 10 and 12 May.