Not Your Average Ayckbourn
"Neigbourhood Watch" Review by Ron Lee
“Chocolate Box Theatre” is a term often used to describe the works of English playwright Alan Ayckbourn, but “Neighbourhood Watch”, playing at the Ensemble Theatre until the end of January, is a slight departure from the expected norm. It tells the story of a middle-aged brother and sister who move into a house, and their paranoia compels them to establish a neighbourhood watch committee and related sub-committees.
Being Ayckbourn, the play is sooo terribly middle-class British. The first act establishes the scenario and the second act picks up the pace.
At the opening, we find out that the Martin has died, and his sister Hilda centres the entire production. Fiona Press’ talent and experience provides the conduit that connects the characters and binds the main plot and the sub-plots. It was a truly impressive and credible performance from her.
Add to that some sensitive subjects such as vigilante-ism, domestic violence, corporal punishment, ham-fisted police responses and adultery and you have an interesting mix of Ayckbourn-style humour and pathos.
A more-than-capable cast includes Douglas Hansell as Luther and Lizzie Mitchell as his wife, Magda. Mitchell absolutely nails her character, effectively expressing massive psychological confusion, vulnerability and inner turmoil.
Brian Meegan is necessarily reliable as the eventually-deceased Martin.
Also strongly supportive are Gillian Axtell as Dorothy, and Bill Young makes the most of his laugh lines as Rod. Young is Australia’s second-tallest actor and has had extensive acting experience including the classic Australian films, “Turkey Shoot” and “Body Melt”, both viewable on YouTube.
In a play that contains much Hugh Grant-esque social discomfort and awkward pauses, Olivia Pigeot as Amy provides unstuffy honesty, glamour and youthfulness in refreshing contrast to the other characters. As her husband, Jamie Oxenbould often pulls audience focus with his pathos and suppressed hostility. There’s a lot happening inside that character’s head, and Oxenbould gives an exceptionally enjoyable performance as the disturbed Gareth.
Directorially, this is an interesting production of Ayckbourn’s “Neighbourhood Watch” at the Ensemble Theatre, and I’d be curious to find out what you think of the big finish.