Hannah Rodgers gives
RolePlay is a two-act, fast paced comedy written by Alan Ayckbourn. The story centers on mismatched couple, Justin (Stephen Quinn) and Julie-Ann (Jen Grace), who are hosting a dinner party to announce their engagement to their parents. Co-directed by Jamie Jones and Nishant Raj, names probably best known for their roles in comedy, the play showed how a seemingly ordinary evening could quickly devolve into a nightmare with a succession of absurd events.
As a production, the show wavered a little. These critiques could be attributed to the fact that this was the first performance and the cast and crew were still finding their feet with the more meticulous aspects of this production and the rather ambitious style choices. But I felt some of them were a bit unprofessional and detracted from the ability of the audience to immerse themselves in the show. While there were not any glaring errors in the set or props, there was frequently noise backstage, possibly due to the number of props being moved frequently on and off the set. There were times when the change in lighting, meant to make the scene more dramatic, was inconsistent and jumpy and was more of a distraction. There was a bit of this jittery-ness seen in the cast as well, with a few cases of overlapping speech and some hasty lines. I am inclined to credit these minor issues to the nerves of the RolePlay team as a whole. The set was very well put together as a realistic flat for a young couple, and the set-up created a kind of intimacy when the cast was onstage altogether. The idea with the lighting was a good one, and it worked well in some scene transitions, the execution could certainly have been cleaner.
RolePlay, with its dinner party from hell plotline, is the most accurate depiction of Alan Ayckbourn’s “how-could-this-possibly-get-any-worse” style. Traditionally, this is played with overwhelmingly ridiculous characters and quick, snappy lines. However, the directors made the decision to slow the show down and open the characters to deeper analysis. I will admit, I was skeptical of this change in the first act and how it would affect the light-heartedness of the rest of the play, but, as Raj states in the Directors’ Notes, “there is more to the show than just snappy jokes in the dialogue.” Upon the completion of the performance, I was pleasantly surprised by the new dynamic the cast provided with multi-dimensional characters as well as their impressive use of space between dialogue. RolePlay stands well as an all comedic, shallowly acted play. To be successful, it does not need to be remarkably acted, let alone explored for meaning and emotional depth. And yet, with the cast’s overwhelming amount of synergistic talent, it would have done the show an injustice not to.
The cast was overall outstanding. Every actor seemed secure in his or her own skin and did a spectacular job of staying in character even when they were not in the spotlight. Their comfort with each other was also notable, especially the actors whose characters were in a committed relationship for the show. All interactions were convincingly affectionate or cold and I would like to praise in particular the performances of Alice Gold (Dee Jobson) and Jonathan Hewitt (Derek Jobson), as their portrayal of obsessive-controlling extended family hit a bit too close to home for comfort. Also distinguished were Hamish Rea (Micky Rale) and Tiffany Black (Arabella Lazenby), whose difficult characters were played to be simultaneously believable and hilarious.
Altogether, I thoroughly enjoyed RolePlay and the take on it that co-directors Raj and Jones decided to perform. I was impressed with the work the actors put into their roles and I do not think the audience could have asked for a better cast dynamic. I look forward to seeing the members of the team in their upcoming productions and hope they have as much fun in those as they appear to have had in RolePlay.