Stars explained: * A production of no real merit with failings in all areas. ** A production showing evidence of not enough time or effort, or even talent, and which never breathes any real life into the piece – or a show lumbered with a terrible script. *** A good enjoyable show which might have some small flaws but has largely achieved what it set out to do.**** An excellent show which shows a great deal of work and stage craft with no noticeable or major flaws.***** A four star show which has found that extra bit of magic which lifts theatre to another plane.
Half stars fall between the ratings

Neighbourhood Watch

Swan Theatre Amateur Company

Swan Theatre, Worcester


Alan Ayckbourn’s 2011 play, his 75th incidentally, takes us, N.F. Simpson like, into the broken society politicians and the chattering classes are so keen to . . . well chatter about.

It is a world where the police are either mistrusted or invisible, never seen on the streets and where taking the law into your own hands is the only solution.

As with any Ayckbourn offering the characters we meet along the way are normal only in so much as they have four limbs and breathe air –  a bit like people we know in fact, but somehow larger than the life we know them in.

The plot is simple. Hilda and Martin, brother and sister and devout Christians, live together and have just moved into the Bluebell Hill development, overlooking a run-down council estate, and are just about to host a housewarming party.

A boy, from the council estate, is seen trespassing in the garden and is confronted by Martin, who gets a kick for his pains, which, when the neighbours arrive, is the catalyst to form a neighbourhood watch – chaired by mild mannered, God-fearing Martin.

Paul Bellamy’s Martin seems quite logical and reasonable, standing up for what is right, a thoroughly good, upstanding chap, as long as you don’t look too closely at what he is standing up for.

While Jane Lush’s Hilda is more apologetic, less enthusiastic about some of the more . . . inventive watch policies, but with an evil streak lurking beneath the calm surface when it comes to protecting her brother from the sins, as she sees them, of the flesh, we are to discover.

Which brings us to the neighbours. There is Dorothy, middle aged and played with that confidential air of the estate gossip by Sue Smith, and then there is Rod.


Rod is retired from the security industry. We are never quite sure what, but it probably involved a uniform and being officious – no doubt he is a close relative of Uncle Harvey in Ayckbourn’s Seasons Greetings.

John Horton gives us a loud-mouthed bigot somewhere to the right of Atilla the Hun, who, at a pinch, could stand in for Donald Trump.

To him the people on the nearby council estate are all scum etc and the only way to keep them out is a 10 foot fence, topped with razor wire, around the estate . . . sound familiar?

He also wants the watch patrols to be armed – only with baseball bats . . . at the moment – so they can disable any intruder . . . or beat them senseless if they resist.

Then there is Chris Isaac’s Gareth. An unemployed Welsh engineer who is being cuckolded on a daily basis by Amy – who appears to be his wife in name only.

He is an emotional wreck, but as a skilled engineer has built the set of stocks for the mini-roundabout the watch requested and is currently making manacles and leg irons and researching mediaeval implements of torture.

As for Amy . . . she is described by Hilda as a whore and a prostitute – bit of tautology there Hilda dear - working her way through all the men on Bluebell Hill, but as she does not appear to charge one assumes it must only be on a voluntary basis.

Playing a convincing slapper is not the easiest of roles but Helen Broadfield nails it, giving us an Amy who just oozes sexuality, lust on legs. She also drops in the F word with the glorious power of a hand grenade – which gave the audience, settled down in a middle class suburban comedy, a bit of a jolt, and a laugh.


It is not all razor wire and roses though. We have Luther, the next-door thug, played with a delightful brutishness by Martin Bourne. Luther, who beats his wife Magda, is leading opposition to the rules and regulations imposed by the watch, including the identity cards needed to enter or leave the now gated community with its security checkpoint.

He was also the latest conquest of the sexual predator that is Amy – until she got her carnal claws into Martin, that is.

Amanda Blockley’s Magda is damaged goods from the start. Not only is she a cuckqueen, but was beaten by her father who handed on the disciplinary mantle, and it appears her tacit acceptance, to Luther and, to top it all, it seems her sexuality is not as clear as it at first seems. She has perhaps the only serious and sad speech in the whole play, about abuse from childhood, which has its effect, a poignant moment somehow leaving you feeling a little uncomfortable in what has been, to that point, a laugh a minute black comedy.

With a vigilante neighbourhood watch complete with well used punishment stocks, 10 - foot security fence and armed patrols, chairman Martin becomes the front page hero of the Daily Mail – who else.

Throw in a garden gnome called Monty and a statue of Jesus, a loony, psychopathic pigeon fancier on the council estate and a family of career criminals, persuaders and enforcers on Bluebell Hill, add a bit of arson and a touch of open warfare and you are left with an evening of very funny, bizarre entertainment.

It all culminates in an unfortunate incident involving the Jesus statue, Martin and armed police – without giving too much plot away, suffice to say the play opens with Hilda’s speech to open Martin’s memorial garden and, after a flashback, ends with the actual opening.

Director Marc Dugmore has injected some lovely touches, such as Martin trying to adjust his dress after an encounter with Amy, or Gareth talking of his tinkering in his shed, and, despite the plot drifting into theatre of the absurd, manages to keep everything appear convincing with a sort of out of control logic to it all.

There is an easy natural pace and, all credit to the excellent cast, none of the very funny lines are lost – although a few did appear to drift by some of the audience. Perhaps my mind is dirtier than theirs . . .

The tale might be far-fetched, but who cares, it’s a fun production that leaves you with a smile. To 24-02-18

Roger Clarke


Home Reviews A-Z Reviews by affiliate