Time Of My Life, Brockley Jack Studio Theatre - Review

Prior to Time Of My Life, Alan Ayckbourn had approximately 25 years of success as a playwright. However he's never been one to rest on his laurels and in the early 1990s, Ayckbourn began experimenting with the use of time in his plays, moving back, forth and sideways to great effect.

Time Of My Life, a comic-tragedy, begins in an Italian restaurant where Laura Stratton (Hilary Derrett) is celebrating her 54th birthday. Joining her are her husband Gerry (Mark Steere), her sons Glyn and Adam (Pearce Sampson, Elliot Berry) and their respective partners Stephanie and Maureen (Charlie McClimens, Lauren Scott-Berry). Throughout the evening, various waiters (all played by Joey Bartram) do their best to keep the family happy. 

Laura as the matriarch is never short of an opinion and anyone not of the family (wife/girlfriend of her sons included) are viewed critically, not unlike the behaviour Maggie Smith's 'Dowager' in Downtown Abbey. Her husband, however, is in comparison more laid back, though Adam's preoccupation with poetry and not being able to stick at anything does rile him. Laura won't hear a word said about Adam, though she takes a dim view of Maureen's occupation (a hairdresser). Nor does Maureen's dress sense and queasiness after drinking endear her to Laura, who sees it as proof of alcoholism. Stephanie doesn't escape Laura's judgement either, casting aspersions on her character even though it was Glyn's infidelity that led to their separation initially.

The second half of the play is structurally much more complex. It's revealed that there is a death in the family and much of the action takes place between Stephanie and Glyn, and Maureen and Adam. However, like the movie Momento (or perhaps it's the other way around) Stephanie and Glyn's troubled marriage is viewed in chronological order while with Maureen and Adam, we see their courtship in reverse order and how chance played a big part in them ever meeting at all. Interspersed between the threads following the younger generations, there are flashbacks to the original birthday celebrations, showing more incidents that shed revelations on Laura and Gerry's marriage, as well of their offspring.

Derret brings a Hyacinth Bucket-esque bullishness to Laura, with the family seldom challenging her opinions 'to keep the peace'. With regards to the next generation, it is the women who certainly challenge the male Strattons, though in Stephanie's case, it stems from concern that the same patterns of behaviour will repeat and lead to irreparable damage to their marriage. Maureen, meanwhile, is eccentric in many ways, but Adam's unequivocal acceptance of her sets him apart as someone worth hanging on to. McClimens elicits empathy as a young woman effectively married to ‘the family’, while Scott-Berry is a natural comedienne, exhibiting great comic timing and relishing the awkwardness of human interaction.

Time Of My Life is a bittersweet play, with much to laugh about, as well as some touching moments regards family dynamics. While it does follow Ayckbourn’s preoccupation with marriage amongst the middle class, the double standards that people have regarding traits and behaviour outside one’s family and social circle are recognisable as a universal phenomenon.

© Michael Davis 2016.

Time Of My Life runs at the Brockley Jack Studio Theatre until 30th April 2016.

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