National Theatre, Olivier
Another in Ayckbourn’s best bitter-sweet style, about a local amateur company rehearsing a production of The Beggar’s Opera, into the midst of which an interloper, a kind of shy, disengaged fellow played by Bob Peck, intrudes himself, and proceeds to fall into role after role of increasing importance, until by default he is cast as Macheath. At the same time, in a way that artfully parallels the action of Gay’s opera, he finds himself drawn into complicity in local politics and love affairs. He has an affair himself with the wife of the director (I’m writing after the fact of mailing my programs back and don’t have details handy). He is eventually discovered, but unlike Macheath is not reprieved at the end.
One senses in all this a comic lesson in the dangers of passivity, of allowing oneself to be drawn into things without actual commitment to them. The play has its funny side, not least in Bob Peck himself, who is a wonderful, straight-faced, dead-pan comic actor. The director’s wife is exceptionally ably acted (she received the Best Supporting Actress of 1985 for it, deservedly), and the pains and (very intermittent) satisfactions of amateur theatre are faithfully rendered by Ayckbourn’s script and its well-rehearsed and well-paced implementation by these actors.