It’s 1952, “housewives” know that rationing isn’t over, their husbands are more concerned with “getting on” at work. Peggy (Georgia Burnell) and former RAF station administrator John (Antony Eden) are able to buy a home in London in which to raise their children.
It’s 1992. Peggy and John’s daughter Sandra (Frances Marshall) lives in the house. Her 10-year-old daughter Alison’s birthday party is raging. Literally. And so is Sandra.
It’s 2022. Alison and her partner Jess (Elizabeth Boag / Tanya-Loretta Dee respectively) are moving out of the house Peggy and John bought 70 years before.
In typical Ayckbourn style the three situations interweave, the women sharing common themes as the stories entwine and back-reference each other. Designer Kevin Jenkins gives us antique furniture set on the recognisable floor-plan of a post-war home. The ladies drift through the room, each unaware of action taking place decades before or after.
A common device, the most effective moments are when the worlds collide, individual crisis separated by time but sharing emotion. Adding details that problems rarely change – an eight-year-old girl in 1952 worried by “peer-pressure” about her weight, a 90s daughter feeling the weight of separation still in sensitive 2022. The central point of the play, and one well made.
The performances are universally deep and strong. Georgia Burnell is a seething mess of subjugation and wasted potential, Antony Eden a thrillingly oblivious and insensitive husband. Uncompromisingly unemotional, bringing the contrast with the women on stage even more into focus.
With less introspective dialogue, thanks to having nobody to play to, the strength of Frances Marshall’s work is most appreciated as the final scenes reveal her motivations. That Marshall is able to build the role to demonstrate the point is impressive.
Elizabeth Boag has edge as designer Alison, teasing Northern partner Tanya-Loretta Dee who in turn provides banter and emotional understanding to have us believe this couple are the only functional relationship in the play... provided “Up Yours” deliver them and their possessions safely to a new home.
The play itself has superfluous running jokes, and sometimes begs for a deeper explanation of situations, raising ideas which we would like to linger on. Relationships between generations and siblings are at the fore, yet sometimes discussed a little less clearly than one may wish if wanting to learn how the characters have been truly affected.
“Let things go where they are most happy”. Peggy applies it to the furniture when she first moves in. Of course, Ayckbourn means it as a wish for his ladies. A plea for their potential, a prayer for their happiness.
The monkey cannot but agree, and so will anyone else taking time to enjoy this nicely-crafted slice of nostalgia with a surprisingly satisfying bite.
Recorded live at the Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough in September 2022, the play is available to stream on demand until 5th November 2022 at: sjt.uk.com/events/sjt-at-home-family-album, price £16.
Photo credit: Tony Bartholomew. Used by kind permission.