Alan Ayckbourn’s comedy, A Chorus of Disapproval, fits nicely into the upper ends of the amateur dramatic range. It concerns the internal politics of a small light operatic society to stage John Gay’s The Beggar’s Opera. Within the ranks of the local cast, as in that of the Beggar’s Opera, there is mischief making galore, a lot of naughty goings on, and some dirty politics to boot. It holds a warmly tinted mirror up to the world of theatre, amateur or professional, where people spend an inordinate amount of energy pretending to be what they’re not. Or are they? The boundaries between the two were always permeable.
Guy Jones (John Conod) is a shy and lonely widower who comes to the Pendon Light Operatic Society looking for company and a bit of fun in the evenings. At first he is more concerned about learning his lines, but soon he is sucked into the maelstrom of internal politics and sexual shenanigans that go on behind the scenes. At the heart of the company is the charismatic director, Dafydd ap Llewelyn (Graham Tyrer), a solicitor and frustrated former professional actor whose best days are long behind him. Flamboyant in public, he is cold and manipulative at home, crushing his poor wife Hannah (Vanessa Gravestock) under the weight of his scathing wit. Quickly she and Guy fall for each other. Guy soon discovers other talents in the company of Fay and Ian Hubbard (Laura Hayward and Tom Purchase-Rathbone), a couple who combine swinging with an avaricious desire for a local land-grab, their eyes firmly fixed on a piece of property owned by two others of the cast, Jarvis and Rebecca Huntley-Pike (Nick Bate and Jane Grafton). As Guy gets deeper into his role as an actor so he is drawn into the spiders’ web of local politics and ambitions.
The charm of the play is the way the scenes offstage are reflected in those of the Beggar’s Opera, played onstage. In that, the central character, the roguish highwayman Macheath, is caught out and brought down by two affairs. Many a theatre company has its behind the scenes liaisons, and this play is probably one of the finest to exploit them.
The plot creaks a bit, and relies on stock characters, and therefore requires really strong playing if they are to work. Graham Tyrer is perfectly cast as Dafydd, a character that deserves Tyrer’s gift for sly innuendo and malice. John Conod is strong as the naïve Guy, whose character subtly grows in confidence while retaining its fundamental innocence. Some of the minor roles are outstanding, too. Stephanie Jepson, for example, provides deadpan humour and occasional violence as the brusque barmaid and stage manager Bridget. And Jane Grafton is convincingly sexy and devious behind the twin set and pearls façade.
The show opened to a packed auditorium. This sweet-as-a-razor comedy gets the Bear Pit Theatre off to a good start this season.
* The play runs until October 5. Visit www.thebearpit.org.uk to book.