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

Striding to another level

In step: Jane Wootton as Elizabeth and Andy Brown as Mark

Taking Steps

Swan Theatre Amateur Company


AT THE risk of fire and brimstone raining down upon me at challenging the work of Sir Alan Ayckbourn could it be that as a farce, Taking Steps is actually not that good?

It certainly seems like sacrilege these days and it is seen as highly unfashionable not to jump on to the Ayckbourn bandwagon.

What was suspect is that even audience members at the Swan were saying they only come out to the theatre for the `good stuff' like Ayckbourn. The reputation in name seems to pack them in even if the content might not.

Taking Steps was said by Ayckbourn to be one of the hardest things he had written and a tribute to the farces of Ben Travers. The fact that the title seems more about the location than the plot says a lot about the staging mechanics as it is set in a three story house yet performed on one level.

It's a good idea more than `revolutionary' and the actors pretend to walk up and down stairs. There are thousands of mime artist across the world who would say `what's so special about that we've been doing it for years'.

Andrew Whittle as Roland (left)  Malc Williams as Bainbridge and Matt Jeffrey as Tristram

It is however very clever as physically it connects the players in a new way on the stage. So The Pines is the broken down Victorian House in question and the location for a variety of mildly amusing comings and goings.

Ayckbourn had intended for the main players to be unlikable people and this dark bite was missing from the STAC production.

Elizabeth (Jane Wootton) is a wife who though even loved and adored by her husband Roland is still leaving yet she seems quite the friendly type.

Roland, (Andrew Whittle) appears a jovially good host instead of the scheming businessman about to buy The Pines and plying his landlord Bainbridge with alcohol just to get a better price.

Bainbridge (Malc Williams) is snide enough to conceal Lizzies leaving note from Roland just to get the house sold but comes over as an amusing cross between Charles Hawtry and Sybil from Fawlty towers.

There is also the inept solicitor Tristram (Matt Jeffrey) the love lost brother Mark (Andy Brown) and his old flame Kitty (Poppy Cooksey-Heyfron) who other than a few lines has hardly anything to do or say in the entire play, all of whom are again quite nice.

The fact that the edges have been rounded off this production makes for a pleasant evening's entertainment rather than some comical microscopic analysis of relationship breakdown.  

It seems coincidental that this play, written in 1979, was just after Rising Damp left our screens and there are parallels to be drawn in the overall scheme of things with the described brown dingy rooms and stairwells of The Pines sounding very much like the Rigsby household.

The STAC have made a good attempt at the complexities of Taking Steps and perhaps after all this is not so much a bad play as one that just needs to be taken to up to yet another level to fully raise the roof. To 26-05-12

Jeff Grant 

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