Written by Alan Ayckbourn
Directed by Ted Dykstra
English playwright Alan Ayckbourn’s Bedroom Farce was first performed in 1975 at the National Theatre, and it offers up what one might expect from such a period piece— the romantic confusions of 20-something boomers trying to sort out the new sexual freedoms of their age, alongside pre-boomer parents, equally befuddled by their place in this supposed sexual revolution.
The play is centered on the rocky young marriage of Trevor and Susannah—two people utterly unsuitable for one another—and the effect that their interplay has on everyone around them. The shenanigans are set in motion when Trevor and Susannah arrive— separately—for a party at the new home of Kate and Malcolm. Also at the party is Trevor’s ex-girlfriend Jan, whose husband Nick is laid up in bed with a bad back. You know where this is going. In the course of one night, the actions of Trevor and Susannah open up old and new wounds in each of these young relationships.
As with every production staged at Soulpepper, the set designs are a part of the performance. In this case, three bedrooms are on show at all times—Malcolm and Kate’s pre-fab starter bedroom centre-stage, with mismatched sheets and threadbare dresser; Jan and Nick’s 70s swish chrome-and-beanbag bedroom set, stage right; and the bedroom of Trevor’s parents, Ernest and Delia, who play the role of a comparatively calming foil to the rest of cast—matching bedside lamps and patterned bedspread in a mute green, stage left.
The real standout performance of the evening is Delia, played by Corinne Koslo. There is much subtlety in the way in which she leans in for some touch of physical affection from her husband without ever saying anything outright on the topic. Derek Boyes as Ernest ably meets her, but hers is the meatier role, with great lines she knows exactly how to treat.
Alex McCooeye is occasionally pitch-perfect as the bedridden and taciturn Nick. An attempt to retrieve a paperback from the floor without actually getting out of bed is wonderful physical comedy. The attempt by wife Jan, played by Caitlin Driscoll, to retrieve both husband and book from the floor on her return from the party is equally successful slapstick.
The three young couples in the play, however, rarely find the subtleties between manic shouting and simpering betrayal. In the case of Trevor and Susannah, played by Rod Pederson and Amy Marysio, that middle ground doesn’t really exist—their characters are caricatures, really, so Trevor’s cluelessness and Susannah’s shrill madness can be tolerated. But around that madness I thought there were opportunities for some signs of depth, or at least certain gradations away from the manic feel of the central couple. The character of Jan, for instance, seemed to ask for a touch more than Driscoll gave to the part. Her obvious disappointment in her husband and the lack of romantic connection between them, and her doting on the hapless Trevor, could have been fleshed out a bit more in small physical ways during the performance. And McCooeye’s disdain throughout seemed to have only gradations of angry. I get a sense there is something a bit more to the character that could have been given room—a real sadness.
Katherine Gauthier is charming as the rather bubble-headed Kate. It’s Gordon Hecht as her equally bubble-headed partner Malcolm that struggles to find definition in this pair. Again, the character comes across as either wounded and silent or screaming in anger. I’m sure part of the challenge is the script—the conflict between the two is her finding porn magazines in his sock drawer, and the fact that her mind turns to floor finishes occasionally when they are making love. The moment where there is a place for a resolution of their conflict, it doesn’t quite hit the mark.
If you are a fan of vintage 70s British sitcoms, you will find much to enjoy in this performance. It’s broad comedy, with an occasional brush with real reflections on love and affection. Boyes and Koslo’s masterful performance alone make it a memorable play.
Bedroom Farce is on stage now at the Youth Centre for the Performing Arts in Toronto, Ontario. Find tickets and more information here.
Robert Colman is a Newmarket, Ontario-based writer and editor. He is the author of two collections of poetry, Little Empires (Quattro Books 2012) and The Delicate Line (Exile Editions 2008). His new chapbook, Factory, is now available from Frog Hollow Press. He is currently pursuing his MFA through UBC’s Optional Residency program.