FlatSpin: World Premiere ReviewsNote: There are very few substantive reviews of the world premiere of FlatSpin as an individual play. This is due to the fact that soon before the play was launched, Alan announced a third part in the Damsels In Distress season. Consequently, many reviewers chose to visit the theatre later in the season and to review all three Damsel plays in one piece.
FlatSpin (by Jeremy Kingston)
"The second new comedy this year by Alan Ayckbourn not only uses the same set as the first, GamePlan, and the same seven actors but it develops the same idea, that adopting a false identity may seem a good wheeze initially but it rapidly topples you into deep trouble.
On the evening I saw FlatSpin, Ayckbourn revealed that he had just begun writing a third in the series, to be called RolePlay, which sounds as if he is giving the idea a further spin. Famous for his creative speed, he had probably finished this by breakfast next morning.
Once again we are in a riverside apartment in London's Docklands where out of work actress Rosie Seymore is being told her duties as temporary janitor and plant-waterer. The apartment's owner is currently absent, and before long we suspect she has never actually been present. If we remember the plot of North by Northwest, we can guess that she doesn't even exist but has been created as part of some sting operation devised by - well, good guys? Bad guys? Only time will tell us.
The Cary Grant character was an innocent bystander caught up in a dangerous game. Rosie is not so innocent. When a personable chap from the next apartment drops in, keen to meet his invisible neighbour at last, Rosie pretends that yes, that's who she is. It has been a rotten day so far; she has just missed the lead in a telly series and feels she deserves a spot of creature comfort.
Alison Pargeter's performance as Rosie puts one entirely on her side. The character has her moments of fragility but giggles win through, and Pargeter plays the mildly idiotic attempts to boost her self-confidence with an endearing sweetness that makes anyone over the age of 30 want to step in with a hug to make her feel better.
The neighbour (Bill Champion) offers a couple of hugs but he's not what he seems either, though well enough disposed to join her in Gnocchi, Gnocchi, Ayckbourn's Italian version of a well-known parlour game.
Secret compartments, hidden cameras, unexpected weapons and sexual frustration all help to complicate what ensues, with Robert Austin and Saskia Butler giving neat performances as a grizzled superior and his grim little sidekick, frustrated at being denied her own leading role in the climax.
This parallel between the two young women is a pleasing example of Ayckbourn's constructive skills, though even at the time, and certainly in retrospect, the play is seen to be shot through with logical flaws. A common fault in comedy thrillers, this is unusual in Ayckbourn. Perhaps breakfast is too early a deadline to give himself. Make it elevenses."
(The Times, 9 July 2001)
FlatSpin (by Charles Hutchinson)
"Haven't we been here before?
There is the same Roger Glossop set, the one with the lemons in the mini-model supermarket trolley; the same cast names; same playwright; same director and same use of a capital letter midWay through the play's tiTle.
Ah, but I was in a different seat, and phew, the play wasn't called DejaVu, but if Alan Ayckbourn keeps adding to his list with such alacrity, the next one just might be, having already announced an unexpected third new show for the summer, RolePlay: same set, cast, same etc.
This time the luxurious London Docklands apartment is a corporate flat in the name of Joanna Rupleford, who has never been seen, as Annette Sefton-Wilcox (Beth Tuckey), the agent with the snorting, dismissive laugh explains.
On a hot Bank Holiday Monday, Rosie Seymore (Alison Pargeter) must cast her excited eye over the riverside pad in the absence of her uncle, the janitor temporarily off-duty with whiplash.
Rosie is an actress, or actor as she calls herself, whose day takes a downward turn with the phone-call to say she has lost the race to be Jane Eyre in the next big BBC costume drama. She had already stopped smoking, has no money and had no decent sex in six months since her boyfriend walked out on her, so when the handsome stranger from next door, Sam Berryman (Bill Champion), comes bounding in, could her luck be about to change with his offer of cooking supper? He says gnocchi, she thinks nookie, let's open another chapter of Bridget Jones's Diary...
Except nothing is as it seems. Rosie has just told him she's Joanna, and as that FlatSpin title suggests, there are soon to be more spins than a circus plate routine... but not before the sexiest seduction scene Ayckbourn has ever written.
Alison Pargeter had spent her adult career playing children and teenage roles... until now, at 29. From the moment she shakes her blonde mane like Miss Piggy, she is a kitten re-born. Add unbridled cleavage, red wine of dubious origin, and it is like that moment when the librarian takes off her glasses.
Pargeter, however, also brings out the vulnerability in Rosie and it turns out Rosie is not only vulnerable but in danger. Exit Sam, without explanation. Enter the world-weary Maurice Whickett (Robert Austin) and mean and moody lesbian action-girl Tracy Taylor (Saskia Butler), a surveillance team on the tracks of drug-dealing Edna Stricken (Jacqueline King). What follows is farce dressed as a cat-and-mouse thriller, including a marvellously dim cameo from Tim Faraday as London's thickest surveillance squaddie, Tommy Angel.
Pargeter is a revelation, the play sexy and flirtatious and full of mind and body games. It will have you in a spin."
(Yorkshire Evening Press, 4 July 2001)
Ayckbourn The Pasta Master Serves Up Another Feast (by Lynda Murdin)
"It's amazing what fun a fertile brain can cook up around the simple task of rolling pasta to make gnocchi.
Rosie, the central character, in the second of what is no longer two, but now three plays being written and directed by Sir Alan Ayckbourn this summer, thinks the word sounds like "nookie". And while Sam, her attractive, unexpected visitor, rolls the pasta into sausage-like shapes when preparing dinner, she and he clearly imagine all sorts of other things.
They grapple enthusiastically on the kitchen table. But it's a case of gnocchi interruptus.... That's just one of many delicious scenes in this comedy thriller which is being presented by the same cast of seven and on the same set in the Stephen Joseph Theatre's Round auditorium as the on-going GamePlan - and the still-to-be-written RolePlay.
Thrillers performed during summer by a resident repertory company used to be as fixed a part of the theatrical calendar as pantomimes at Christmas. So the SJT's long-standing artistic director - a pasta master if ever there was one - is in one sense going back to the future with this, his 59th work.
Many techniques are reminiscent of classic thrillers of yore. But this is entertainment with a modern twist - and an old-fashioned twist in its tale.
It's not a chiller thriller. Laced with lashings of sexual innuendo and at times as saucy as a seaside postcard, it seems to find a new level as a sometimes silly - but scintillating - thriller. Whatever its genre, it's certainly - to borrow a description from the apartment's amusingly snooty managing agent - "spot on". Yet, if there is a quibble, you do wonder why that strongly defined early character (Beth Tuckey) never makes a reappearance: a deal of comic observation seems under-used.
Rosie, an out-of-work actress and a modern young woman in the style of Bridget Jones, has no coy hang-ups about hiding her interest in Sam. She's only supposed to be looking after the now familiar, smart Wapping apartment - all blond wood and chrome with the sound of river traffic evocatively ever present outside.
But when Sam bursts in and he apparently believes her to be its absent resident, she soon concurs - for the simple reason that she fancies spending the night with him.
But there's mutual deception. Given the umbrella title for this trio of plays is Damsels in Distress, Rosie finds she's made a dangerous liaison.
If I were to say FlatSpin involves a drugs' sting, intimations of violence, questions of identity and shady (if bumbling) surveillance techniques, it would sound far heavier than it is.
It remains within the bounds of light entertainment with jokes about the theatrical profession - wannabe Rosie's career to date involves the sole role of playing a rabbit on tour - providing another mouth-watering ingredient. It also has some moments of real tension. They might not be heart-stoppingly gripping but you can never rest easy that everything will work out all right in the end. And does it?
Sometime breaking into spontaneous applause, audience members were clearly happy that this play contains few dark implications of the sort that render the entirely separate story of friend, Kelly, in GamePlan. Now she's a sexy but sweet seductress, comically exploiting curves that it must be painful to keep under tight wraps in younger roles.
A dark-eyed blonde, she not only bears a physical resemblance to Renee Zellweger starring in the recent movie version of Bridget Jones's Diary, she captures a similar intriguing mix of female strengths and vulnerabilities, self-deprecation and pushiness.
It's easy to see why she takes such a shine to Sam as portrayed by Bill Champion, who walks an emotional tightrope between love rat and reformed character.
Among some expert uses of physical theatre techniques, Saskia Butler's aggressive body movements, as Tracy, a member of the mysterious spooks, are beautifully controlled with her sense of inner-frustration sustained throughout.
As Tommy, Tim Faraday presents more of a blunt instrument, stretching his muscles in readiness like a gorilla. By contrast, as the mastermind of the covert operation, Robert Austin is every inch the droll Mr Smoothie.
If you want to fall flat with laughter, then give FlatSpin a whirl."
(Yorkshire Post, 4 July 2001)
All reviews are copyright of the respective publication.