Between 17 May and 21 May 2011, Newport Playgoers staged Alan Ayckbourn¹s drama Role Play at The Dolman Theatre, Newport, South Wales.
The directional debut from Judith Lindwall focused on the events of a dinner party from hell and the misconceptions of the characters that attended it.
Along with Game Plan and Flat Spin, Role Play formed the third and final part of Alan Ayckbourn¹s 2001 Damsel¹s In Distress trilogy originally performed by The Stephen Joseph Theatre in Scarborough.
The plays were only linked in that they featured a female protagonist in an extraordinary situation and dealt with several recurring Ayckbourn themes including a lack of communication between individuals, relationships, technology failure and the death of love.
Role Play is set in a London Docklands apartment and joins Justin and Julie-Ann as they prepare a dinner party to announce their forthcoming engagement. The storm raging outside is almost a prophecy of things to come as the pair attempt to keep up appearances for Justin¹s sherry drinking mother Arabella and Julie-Ann¹s parents, Derek and Dee, who are travelling all the way from the North.
Justin and Julie-Ann¹s seemingly perfect pairing already has cracks in it. This becomes apparent in the opening moments of the play when the highly-strung Julie-Ann panics at the loss of a fork from the dinner set and suggests the couple abstain from sex for the next three months before their marriage.
Dealing with Julie-Ann¹s tantrums and his mother’s drunken interruptions via the phone, Justin¹s evening takes an interesting diversion when an ex-lap dancer called Paige Petite from the apartment upstairs spectacularly falls onto his balcony.
Paige is on the run from her violent boyfriend and his gun toting bodyguard Micky whom shortly afterwards bursts onto the scene. As Micky and Paige await her boyfriend’s return from Birmingham, they decide to crash Justin and Julie-Ann¹s dinner party which leads to revelations, confusion and much in the way of comedy and drama.
Cassie Bowkett and Jamie Jarvis brought the characters of prissy JulieAnn and Justin to life. The pair illustrated the couple’s tolerance of each other via heated arguments and a lack of communication akin to a couple who are closer to breaking up rather than starting a life together.
Jarvis had some delightful scenes to react to, for as well as an overbearing girlfriend, his character also must deal with a bigot, a gun to his head, a drunken mother and a damsel in distress in the form of the plays reluctant heroine Paige Petite.
Emma Hazelhurst endeared the audience with her portrayal of Paige, an East End girl who has fallen on hard times. Not only did she portray the character with sensitivity but also delivered her humorous lines with a touch of irony. While making polite conversation with Julie-Ann¹s parents the judgmental but slightly dim witted Jobson¹s, they quiz Paige on her career as a dancer.
“Have you been in anything we might have seen?”
“I Hope not”
Later, there¹s a further wonderful moment.
“Do you dance Cappella?”
“No, I¹ve only been as far as Amsterdam”.
Miss Hazelhurst as Paige also shined in moments when she wasn¹t at the forefront of attention reacting to the other characters and getting the chance to turn the tables by performing a lap dance routine much to the shock of the other characters.
Rose Bissex brought a lot of laughter to the role of Justin¹s confused sherry drinking mother Arabella. Her confusion over who was Justin¹s girlfriend and her drunken collapse at the end of the first act only to be replicated in the same position at curtain up in the second made excellent comedy.
James Reynolds as Micky with John Sheen and Sue Morgan as The Jobson¹s also provided strong support and equally had moments to shine in this marvellous production.
There was also a fully functional well-designed set made up of Justin and Julie-Ann¹s apartment which allowed the cast to move freely around the stage and disappear in and out of doors as the narrative commanded.
Although Role Play includes language that some people may find offensive, this is never used to gain cheap laughs. Ayckbourn¹s skilful writing delivers some wonderful scenarios situated around a dinner party from hell and with the skilful cast of The Newport Playgoers at the helm made this thoroughly entertaining and enjoyable production.
This extended review originally featured on the suite101 website in May 2011.
Photographs of Newport Playgoers cast by Phil Mansell.
Revised: October 2019