Alan Ayckbourn has probably written more plays in his lifetime than most people have seen in theirs (seriously, he’s written 78). But ‘A Small Family Business’ is oft cited as one of his very best, a semi-farcical family drama that serves as a quietly devastating metaphor for the ravages of Thatcherite capitalism, as decent businessman Jack finds his scruples eroded by his spectacularly venal family.
Adam Penford has essentially elected to present ‘A Small Family Business’ as a period piece as it returns to the stage on which it premiered in 1987. That’s a bit of a shame, I can’t help but think. With the greed-is-good attitude that Ayckbourn first gently, then aggressively skewers now the abiding mantra in our society, there’s no reason why ‘ASFB’ should be so distractingly mired in the ’80s, with its colossal shoulder pads and ghoulishly bland interiors. It often feels like period silliness is obfuscating social commentary.
What Penford’s production has going for it is a rock-solid middle-aged cast. Nigel Lindsay is big, charismatic and human as Jack, the honest businessman who finds himself caught up in an exasperating web of intrigue after he takes over Ayres & Graces, the titular family furniture business. Niky Wardley very nearly steals the show as his blithely horrendous sister-in-law Anita. And Matthew Cottle is skin-crawlingly creepy as private investigator Benedict Hough, the uncomfortable physical manifestation of Jack’s moral slippage.
It’s pleasurable, in the sense that lines and performances frequently make you smile, and the action escalates with satisfying precision. And it doesn’t need to feel brutally satirical to have some heft, opening as it did on the eve of Maria Miller’s resignation.
But Penford’s leisurely production is rarely laugh-out-loud funny, and far meeker than it could be, with its gratifyingly savage dénouement rather weakly set up. As it makes its homecoming, ‘A Small Family Business’ feels less a still-potent classic, more affirmation of Ayckbourn’s reputation as the master of thoughful MOR.
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Average User Rating
2.7 / 5
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Saw this tonight at the cinema live broadcast , really dire bad am dram quality. Script devoid of wit or interest all characters utterly uninvolving. Why any one would go see this live is beyond me.
I'm sorry, I found nothing in this play for me at all. I gave it a solid 30 minutes, the whole thing was quite contrived and wooden with no natural flow, the plot moved far too slow, the lines was too wooden and the delivery was OTT. Even though I was seated bang in the middle of row A, I couldn't hear clearly.
'A small family business' is an enjoyable eighties-set romp with a critical focus on the selfish capitalist ethos of Thatcherite Britain. In fact the play is again relevant given the more recent financial collapse brought on by the actions of the latest crop of unscrupulous con-men driving our economy. It's open to question whether there is any value in re-staging the play in its original eighties context as its themes are so resonant to post-Lehman Brothers Britain (the costumes and hairstyles add little to the production). However, the darkening of the mood as the story unfolds is powerful as the moral message at the core of the piece, that self-interest spreads and is dangerously (often fatally) all-consuming, is emphatically made.
It was an enjoyable evening but it did have the feeling of a dated sitcom from the 70s to 80's. There was some notable character performances and some chuckles, but few belly laughs. I felt that the actors did as much with the script as they could and the acting flowed well. The transformation into mafia boss could have been more gradual and subtle and I didn't think the plot was well written, although some of the comedy moments stood out.
Very much a 3 star overall.
While there was some interesting themes about family loyalty, conflict and corruption, the overall the story and characters feel a little dated and predictable 27 years on.
Bondage, murder and family seems a strange combination of themes - but the show somehow manages to put a comic and lighthearted spin on some dark moments. The characters are hilarious and had me chuckling - at no moment did I feel like I was going to fall asleep (an achievement for me in a warm and dark Theatre). A loveable show. Saw this last night courtesy of the Time out Card team, thanks once again!