Alan Ayckbourn’s brush with mortality gave him the inspiration to write his resurrection comedy, Life and Beth.
On recovering from a stroke he started on a story about a recently created widow, Beth, who secretly would love to spend Christmas on her own doing whatever she liked but her well-meaning relatives hijack the event in order to give the “grieving” widow the sort of festive holiday that she would have enjoyed with her husband Gordon.
The Pendley Court Theatre Company performed this lesser known Ayckbourn at The Court Theatre last week and, while nowhere near as funny as some of his great comedy classics, it did feature moments of the writer at his blackest.
Everyone assumes that the 33-year marriage of Beth and Gordon Timms must have been happy. After all no-one had a bad word to say against Gordon. He was a model husband and Beth was jolly lucky to have found him.
But there’s a lot of seething resentment pent up in Beth. Liz Edlin’s performance in the lead was occasionally too restrained next to shared scenes with her boozy and very vocal sister-in-law Connie (Jenny Booth running on a quart of Merlot).
But the simmering frustration was all there. She had hoped that she was now free of a lifetime of having her self-confidence sapped by her domineering husband but, sadly, it was not to be. Such was his hold over her that she couldn’t shake him -even in death.
Simon Hill’s cameo as her hubby was a treat. The health-and-safety pen-pusher died, ironically, after a series of accidents but he makes several unwelcome returns as the family attempt to celebrate Christmas.
Colin Bryer as the comforting parish priest was a bit of a stereotype, though quietly enjoyable, but Jamie Ferguson, as the couple’s noisy and controlling son, Martin, struggled with a country’s worth of accents throughout the performance I watched on Thursday. His non-speaking girlfriend, Ella (Emma Russon probably couldn’t believe her luck when discovering that she had no lines to learn), appeared as scornful as Beth but showed her feelings openly. Martin is the first to admit that he is his father’s son.
Life & Beth was a festive reminder that it isn’t all happy families at Christmas.