‘Tis the season to be jolly, and The Ensemble ends its 2017 season with a jolly production of Alan Ayckbourn’s silly-arse farce, Taking Steps.
The play’s title cutely telegraphs Ayckbourn’s re-machining of traditional farce replacing door and window entrance and exit with staircase-to-three-floors antic, all staged on a single playing space. This requires the six actors to mime “taking steps” up and down and around and about.
Confusing at first, because the steps look like a character affectation of Elizabeth, an ex-dancer, packing her bags at the beginning of proceedings in preparation for her flight from the marital home. As she packs, she seems to pirouette, simultaneously parleying with her brother, Mark, who is desperately trying to persuade her into staying with her husband, Roland. The sibling marriage counselling comes from a self-centred scheme of asking his wealthy brother in law to bankroll a bait and tackle shop.
Taking Steps is largely about property, with the three storey pile, The Pines, being both setting and catalyst for the action.
Bucket billionaire, Roland, intends to purchase this boon-dock former bordello for Elizabeth, in a deluded idea that it will bestow on her “the Lady of the Manor mantle”. The owner of the estate, Bainbridge, is keen for a quick sale, and Roland has invited his solicitor, Tristram, to come over and handle the conveyancing. Meanwhile, Mark has brought Kitty to The Pines, the girl who recently stood him up at the altar, in an attempt at reconciliation.
A dark and stormy night, both literally and figuratively, ensues, with spirits imbibed and spirits invoked, domestic bliss blitzed by bedraggled bed fellowship and comic closeted concealment.
The high stepping cast give the play a good kick in the farce, with Simon London’s boring Mark a mark of amusement and Peter Kowitz’s boorish Roland the very model of a nouveau riche ninny nicely observed. Christa Nicola is suitably flighty as Elizabeth and Andrew Tighe brims with a bonhomie barely masking his teetering bankruptcy. The most nuanced performances come from Drew Livingston as the cripplingly shy Tristram and Emma Harvie as the literally closeted Kitty.
Anna Gardiner’s set conjures a Steptoe and Son clutter illustrating the dilapidated estate and the crumbling relationships.
Climbing stairs, however nimbly by some of the cast, takes longer than slamming doors, and does take a toll on the pace, but Taking Steps is so full of good cheer in merry measure it’s worth taking steps to attend.
Ensemble Theatre presents
by Alan Ayckbourn
Director Mark Kilmurry
Venue: Ensemble Theatre | 78 McDougall Street, Kirribilli NSW
Dates: 23 Nov 2017 – 13 Jan 2018