GamePlan: World Premiere Reviews
Sale of the 21st Century (by John Peter)
"The setting of Alan Ayckbourn's new play, GamePlan (Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough), is a gleaming new riverside apartment in the brave new world of London's Docklands. The sofa and armchairs in the sitting room are soft cream leather. The super-modern, blond-wood kitchen units have an almost unnaturally high sheen, as if nobody ever used them.
Is this where prosperity begins to mellow, as the fellow said, and fall into the rotten mouth of death? This may be pushing it a bit, no? Remember though, that Ayckbourn is a fully paid-up, card-carrying, Englishman of a certain age, and, like most such people. he tends to have a slightly sniffy approach to success. You will recall, too, that in his plays, big-shot buccaneers, promotion-obsessed operators and other ruthless go-getters usually get their comeuppance.
Take the Saxons. Lynette Saxon, 42 (Jacqueline King), and her husband did well on the internet market: hence the apartment and the good school for their daughter, Sorrel (Saskia Butler). But then the business failed, and the husband ran off with Lynette's business partner. She now works as an office cleaner, smokes heavily and is racked by a cough that is clearly partly nervous. The flat may have to be sold. It is at this point that Sorrel takes action.
At 16, Sorrel is the new woman of the dotcom age. She loves Lynette but is irritated by her: the cigs, the coughing, the misery. And how can you miss some bastard who left you? This last bit has to do with Sorrel's aggressive immaturity. Butler catches the tone perfectly. Sorrel is angry because, like a lot of such girls, she is both half-aroused and bored by life: she has feelings but no idea what to do with them. She has had sex because one does, but it was no great shakes. The earth didn't move, so that's that. On the other hand, it has something that could work for you.
This is why Sorrel gets in touch with her former sixth-form classmate, Big Angie, who had got chucked out because she was not only having lots of sex but charging for it too. Big Angie is doing fine now, thanks partly to the net. This gives Sorrel an idea, proving she has inherited both her father's entrepreneurial genes and his lack of judgment. Sex is a commodity, but only if you know how to sell.
The play is at its best and funniest when Sorrel, helped by her terrified but devoted friend, innocent and bespectacled Kelly (Alison Pargeter) sets up her business and receives her first client, an elderly, bald widower (Robert Austin), who pontificates about decency and gets all tearful about poor Marjorie, still not forgotten after five years, while Sorrel tries in vain to attract his attention with what she thinks are erotic gestures. Clearly, Sorrel is as unfit for this profession as her father had been for his. The commodity is not up to the demands of the market: the nightmare of every capitalist.
After this, the play gets slightly wobbly. What does a girl do when she finds herself with a male body, white, fiftyish, well dressed, more or less satisfied but completely dead? When the police arrive. it is only partly clear how they found this flat and still less clear why they leave without making an arrest, except that it allows Ayckbourn to write a strong final scene with a neatly open ending. That scene is clearly by a playwright who knows how to pull the threads of his story together. Trapped in an unscrupulous enterprise culture, you finally respond with the unscrupulousness that this culture understands. Exploit that ye be not exploited. But the initial comic potential has not lasted and you get the feeling that the open ending was chosen partly because it seemed the only one to hand.
Ayckbourn directs with his usual impeccable sense of character and pace, but I have to report that the actors' delivery is on the slapdash side: when they have their back to you, which frequently happens in the round, you often cannot hear them clearly. This is a flawed play, but it is still constantly entertaining and alert. It's only that you feet spoilt. In nearly 40 years of writing plays with his unique combination of wit, invention, psychological insight, ruthless thinking and irresistible comedy, Ayckbourn has got you to expect nothing but the best."
(Sunday Times, 3 June 2001)
Incidental Truths (by Dominic Cavendish)
"What is Alan Ayckbourn's game plan? Perhaps his intention is to write so many plays that, were they performed back-to-back, the cycle would last from one Christmas Day to the next. His favourite dramatic setup - the recurrent Christmas gathering - could thus be played out for real by his own audiences.
Perhaps there is no greater scheme than just to keep churning them out. The motivation behind GamePlan - play number 58 - certainly looks quotidian, if commendable: this comedy was apparently written to give the Stephen Joseph Theatre's new resident ensemble some decent roles. (Another play, FlatSpin, to be performed by the same cast, will join the repertory later this month.)
By Ayckbourn's standards, the subject matter is quite risqué. Frustrated by the sudden privations caused by the collapse of her mother's dotcom business, teenage schoolgirl Sorrel decides to make a few bob on the side by setting up as a hooker, advertising her services online. Her first encounter with a client, undertaken in her mother's apartment in London's Docklands, goes hideously, hilariously wrong.
This isn't a powerful indictment of modern society. Yes, schoolgirls do go on the game and the internet lays the young open to temptation and risk. But Ayckbourn is far more interested in wringing laughs from the situation than he is in stirring indignation. Driven more by naivety and petulance than by hardship, Sorrel isn't a reliable instance of genuine vulnerability.
Much of the evening's pleasure lies in watching a strong cast, expertly directed in the round by Ayckbourn himself, skilfully negotiate the play's potentially treacherous lightheartedness. Saskia Butler as Sorrel and Alison Pargeter as Kelly, her gawky best friend, make a fine double act, ably catching the resentful clinginess of teenage friendships and that glorious mixture of trepidation and excitement that sets adolescents apart.
By the time the client - an absurdly dull middle-aged dry-cleaner - arrives, Sorrel has turned into a PVC-clad parody of a dominatrix, while Kelly whimpers in a state of self-generated terror.
Offset against such daft moments are more telling encounters. Exuding faded flamboyance, Jacqueline King warms the scene as Sorrel's mother, struggling to keep her daughter in order, when she herself is falling apart.
It's for the play's incidental home truths, and the bold running gags, rather than its glances at the digital age, that one must finally give thanks that Ayckbourn is still knocking them out after all these years."
(Daily Telegraph, 19 June 2001)
GamePlan (by Jeremy Kingston)
"When Alan Ayckbourn was writing and directing his first plays, some 40 years ago, the repertory system still survived outside London, particularly those beside what was then called the seaside. This summer, at Westcliff-on-Sea, Roy Marsden revived the repertory practice for his Agatha Christie season, and further up the coast Ayckbourn is having a go at establishing a more permanent company of actors in Scarborough.
One problem is the expense of keeping actor's on the payroll when there aren't parts for them in the next play. Ayckbourn, uniquely placed to provide the solution, has written two comedies for the same number of actors - performing on the same set, too - in order to keep all seven of them fully employed. Or at least to provide the actors with something to do, for the minor roles in this first play are not going to be taxing the dramatic skills of the players concerned.
Roger Glossop's permanent set is a bleakly expensive flat overlooking the water in London's Docklands. For play No 2, - FlatSpin, opening next month - the importance of proximity to the river has yet to be revealed, but in GamePlan the balcony provides a seemingly safe way to be rid of an inconvenient corpse. Splash.
A woman who has just pushed 40 is left by her husband when her dot-com company collapses. She and her 16-year-old daughter may have to move out of the flat, out of the district, even, which doesn't much bother the mother, who seems to have few friends, but schoolgirl Sorrel concocts a plan. She will go on the game, with best friend Kelly as her "maid", and earn a fortune to help Mum, writing her school essays in her spare time.
A delicate dramatic area, then, especially when preparations for the first client are complete and Ayckbourn can hardly delay his arrival much longer. Until then the comedy has emerged from the contrast between Saskia Butler's determined little Sorrel, lips clenched in disapproval of most adults, naively brash, and the panic attacks that freeze Alison Pargeter's Kelly.
The arrival of Robert Austin's Leo brings comedy rooted in another contrast, for he has been attracted to her Internet ad by the quality of its punctuation - "free of intrusive apostrophes" - and is content to sit chatting, even while Sorrel all but splits her shiny black corset in an effort to entice him bedwards.
Events in Act II take a darker turn, but Ayckbourn's writing becomes dismayingly slack. The two policemen are caricatures, and to make one of them prone to long biblical quotes is a pretty desperate attempt to flesh out a character. The relationship between Sorrel and her mother (Jacqueline King) goes nowhere.
This is minor Ayckbourn, then. Fingers crossed for its partner."
(The Times, 12 June 2001)
GamePlan (by Dave Windass)
"Vice, death and 200 condoms: not altogether the normal components of an Alan Ayckbourn play. But fear not - the Scarborough bard has not turned into Mark Ravenhill.
Gameplan at the Stephen Joseph is the writer/director's first piece written specifically for a new regular company of actors.
Chain-smoking Lynette Saxon (Jacqueline King) has lost her millions made as a successful dot.com entrepreneur and has been abandoned by her husband. To help mum out, teenage schoolgirl daughter Sorrel (Saskia Butler) hatches a plan - to work as a prostitute, garnering clients by advertising her services over the Internet.
What can possibly go wrong? Well, Sorrel's first client, the elderly Leo Tyler (Robert Austin), has a post sex heart attack for starters. And, as this is Ayckbourn, this is just the beginning of a complex sequence of events.
If only Sorrel had listened to the wise words of her geeky friend Kelly, played by Alison Pargeter, who attempted to dissuade her from entering a life of vice. Pargeter is some talent, and her facial expressions and body movements result in well-earned laugh after laugh.
The cast also includes Beth Tuckey, ridiculously deadpan as Grace Page, a police officer keen to espouse chapters from the Bible at any given opportunity.
Bigger themes envelop this hilarious play: we've all got a price, we all have our own individual vices, morals and scruples. Important messages aside, Gameplan is really funny and proof, if any were needed, that Ayckbourn still has more to offer than any of his contemporaries."
(The Stage, 7 June 2001)
GamePlan (by Charles Hutchinson)
"This is the first of two world premieres this summer by the ever-prolific writer and director Alan Ayckbourn, bracketed together under the collective theme of Damsels In Distress.
From June 28, GamePlan will be joined by FlatSpin, and in the latest Ayckbourn novelty the two entirely separate plays will be staged by the same cast on the same Roger Glossop design.
GamePlan is set in one of those anonymous, over-priced riverside apartments that sprouted up in the London Docklands under the Tory regeneration programme, and here it is a lifestyle symbol of the blue-chip success of Internet businesswoman Lynette Saxon (a neurotic Jacqueline King). Except that she has crashed off the information highway: her husband has run off to sunny climes with her former business partner and instead of running offices, Lynette is now a part-time office cleaner living on nerves, 40 fags a day and microwave suppers.
Precocious daughter Sorrel (Saskia Butler, 24 playing 16) is academically bright, full of resentment of her father, and subject to typical teenage mood swings. Faced with the bleak prospect of moving, she hatches the game plan to make some instant cash transforming herself into PVC booted and suited Randy Mandy, internet hooker, and duly assigns her callow, bespectacled school friend Kelly (Alison Pargeter) to be her maid.
Kelly, forever pulling awkwardly at her shirt, is all fingers and thumbs and dumb-struck expression in a supreme comic performance by Pargeter. Butler's Sorrel is at once the young urban sophisticate with her mobile phones and mastery of the internet, yet she is naive too, the under-nourished child within.
The comic twists and turns and surprises climax in Act One, Scene 3 as Sorrel's first client, a dry-cleaning boss and boring widower by the name of Leo (Robert Austin) witters on about his marriage while she tries to entice him to bed with increasingly desperate moves, and Kelly totters about on high heels, flapping like a barn door in the wind.
Slapstick meets kitchen sink. Yet the two ensuing stings to this scene are typical shards of Ayckbourn darkness that lead to the involvement of the police, including a WPC (Beth Tuckey) with a propensity for spouting doom-laden chunks from the Bible (one of Ayckbourn's more self-indulgent comic devices).
At the core of GamePlan is Ayckbourn's first study of the mother-and-daughter relationship, new pressure-cooker territory explored with typical social perception; wise and wizened humour and pain. There are points made too about the pressures of growing up too quickly and the dark side of the internet but ultimately this is not a heavy piece, more a game diversion, as much a play thing as Sorrel in her shiny black number."
(Yorkshire Evening Press, 30 May 2001)
GamePlan (by Lynda Murdin)
"If expert crafting and brisk comedy didn't lend GamePlan such a recognisable signature, you might wonder who wrote it.
In terms of narrative and characters, Alan Ayckbourn seems to be playing a new game. The long-standing director of Scarborough's Stephen Joseph Theatre (SJT) is 62 years old, this is his 58th work, yet, extraordinarily, it has the scintillating freshness of a new set of balls.
Balls of the sporting kind, I mean, not any other - though in actual fact, the game of the, title has more in common with the other than you might suppose. We're not talking about football or pheasants here: prostitution is the name of this game with two 16-year-old girls, one of whom decides to earn money by resorting to the oldest means of economic independence known to woman, recruiting her gullible friend to act as her maid.
These are middle-class girls from nice homes - unlike, say, the council estate sex sirens in Andrea Dunbar's Rita, Sue and Bob, Too. The resulting imbroglio is a bit like crossing one of Ayckbourn's family Christmas shows, in which teenagers are central figures, with an Ann Summers catalogue, or even more lurid elements of the sex industry.
It is wonderful to hear the Round auditorium resounding with loud and spontaneous laughter once again. Directed with confident top-spin by the author, GamePlan is bound to score a glorious winning run during the SJT's summer repertory season.
Personally, however, I find certain aspects of it more uncomfortable than convulsing. There's something a bit disturbing about indicating cynical sex takes place off-stage between a schoolgirl (albeit played by an adult, Saskia Butler) and a portly middle-aged widower who's unattractive enough to make her physically sick afterwards.
Who's exploiting whom? Sorrel is obviously exploiting her client - and he her. And it's true that Butler makes the girl's movements and facial expressions amazingly funny as she teeters around in thigh-high PVC boots, tight shorts and a basque. But presumably this provocative fantasy figure is also titillating to men?
Maybe Ayckbourn, ever the master manipulator, is simply playing games with us? Challenging our perceptions of comedy? His humour is often based in tragedy. But whereas a spinster in a shapeless woolly cardigan is immediately perceived as tragic, a schoolgirl in fetish gear is not. Although she should be.
Sorrel is motivated by the fact that her mother, Lynette, who used to run an internet company, has lost everything in the collapse of dotcoms. Making matters worse, her father has run off with her mother's former business partner - so, although Ayckbourn's focus has moved away from male female relationships to ones between women, we are left with the aftermath of a marriage. Lynette (Jacqueline King) could represent the next step for all women whose marriages were breaking up in his previous plays. Although dumped, she has not stopped loving her husband but at the same time realises she has reached an age when she feels she is invisible to men. Her daughter is now her life. She does not know Sorrel has gone from dotcoms to condoms...
The normality of this background situation and the truths embodied in the mother daughter relationship help root the bizarre happenings which turn as black as a Joe Orton farce into a believable reality.
Returning to the SJT, King reminds us she is a particularly fine actress. She and Butler relate to one and other with a deep degree of mutual concern. But however skilled their interplay, it is the beautifully acted friendship between Sorrel and the dim Kelly, portrayed by Alison Pargeter, that wins GamePlan, set and match.
Apart from her physical theatre skills, it is astounding how confident and grown-up Butler can make Sorrel appear one minute, how young and naive, the next, capturing the mood swings of a teenager. Pargeter who like Butler appeared in the SJT's last Christmas show, Whenever, displays a natural and surprisingly unselfconscious comic talent in contrast to her former prim persona.
It all takes place in a smart riverside apartment in London Docklands. Designed by Roger Glossop, the set of blond wood kitchen fittings and beige living room furniture will be used later this season for FlatSpin, also written and directed by Ayckbourn under the umbrella title, Damsels In Distress. FlatSpin will have the same very watchable cast of seven but a totally separate story."
(Yorkshire Post, 6 June 2001)
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