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the Complete Review
the complete review - drama


Alan Ayckbourn

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To purchase House

Title: House
Author: Alan Ayckbourn
Genre: Drama
Written: 1999
Length: 111 pages
Availability: in House & Garden - US
in House & Garden - UK
  • First performed 17 June 1999, at the Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough
  • Intended to be performed simultaneously with Garden (see our review)
  • "Revisions made to the text during rehearsals for the production at the Royal National Theatre are not included in this edition." (The NT production was first presented 9 August 2000)

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Our Assessment:

B+ : entertaining, with some nice touches

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The Guardian A+ 21/6/1999 Michael Billington
The Guardian A+ 10/8/2000 Michael Billington
The Guardian . 19/8/2000 Justin Cartwright
The Guardian . 7/7/2001 Lyn Gardner
The Independent . 10/8/2000 Paul Taylor
The Independent . 13/8/2000 Kate Bassett
New York A 3/6/2002 John Simon
The New Yorker . 3/6/2002 Nancy Franklin
The NY Observer . 3/6/2002 John Heilpern
The NY Times . 22/5/2002 Bruce Weber
The Spectator . 19/8/2000 Sheridan Morley
Time . 28/8/2000 Richard Zoglin
The Times . 11/8/2000 Benedict Nightingale
TLS A 9/7/1999 Tim Auld
Wall St. Journal . 20/2/2001 Joel Henning

  Review Consensus:

  The more accomplished of the two plays, with some considering it to be one of Ayckbourn's best plays

  From the Reviews:
  • "But, seen together, the plays offer an extraordinary comic-melancholic vision of married life in which women end up as resilient victims. House, in particular, is one of Ayckbourn's best plays - a study in domestic disintegration in which much of the key action happens offstage." - Michael Billington, The Guardian (21/6/1999)

  • "The matter of the plays is deeply serious: nothing less than modern morality. But Ayckbourn's treatment is wildly comic. And, if I prefer House to Garden, it is because it both touches deeper chords and garners even greater laughs. (...) These superb plays prove that nobody has a sharper eye than Ayckbourn for the quotidian cruelties of English life." - Michael Billington, The Guardian (10/8/2000)

  • "If the play is not entirely satisfying, that is less to do with Betteridge's production (...) than with Ayckbourn's concept. It is ingenious, but you can see all the joins. More importantly, the logistics of the piece -- requiring split-second timing so the actors can exit one stage in time to make their entrance on the one next door -- work against real emotional depth." - Lyn Gardner, The Guardian

  • "The play itself is often hilariously funny, only marred by the serious bits, which are strangely artificial and trivial" - Justin Cartwright, The Guardian

  • "Playing in front of two audiences at once must feel like a form of bigamy or adultery, but House and Garden doesn't make enough of the way the two-timing of the characters is mirrored in the form." - Paul Taylor, The Independent

  • "House is frequently hilariously funny. Ayckbourn seems inspired here, producing dozens of corking lines." - Kate Bassett, The Independent

  • "The characters in Ayckbourn's twin plays, House and Garden, are funny all right, but each of them carries inside, or causes in others, a goodly share of sadness and dejection. (...) Do not assume, however, that this is merely a cute tour de force; it is, aside from much laugh-out-loud fun, also a serious demonstration of the idea that what happens to people in contiguous but separated places gravely affects, perhaps even radically changes, their tragicomical lives." - John Simon, New York

  • "In the plays' bipolar structure, House is the depressive half. (...) You get more information when you see the second play, but you don't get illumination." - Nancy Franklin, The New Yorker

  • "Each play stands on its own, and Iím afraid that House was enough for me. I felt, unfairly perhaps, that Iíd already seen at least some of Garden. But Iíve seen House before, too, in a thousand traditional English drawing-room comedies, a good number of them written by Mr. Ayckbourn." - John Heilpern, The New York Observer

  • "House and Garden (...) together constitute as ingeniously constructed a work as the contemporary theater offers. (...) If you can only see one, I recommend House, which has the single best scene in the two plays" - Bruce Weber, The New York Times

  • "What happens in the end here, as so often in Ayckbourn, is that the stage engineer overtakes and severely damages the playwriting genius. House alone is in many ways one of his best plays, a brilliant retread of all those country-house-party comedies of the 1950s by Hugh Williams or William Douglas Home" - Sheridan Morley, The Spectator

  • "It's an audacious, crazy, altogether brilliant achievement. Each play works on its own (although House is better than Garden), but each enhances the other." - Richard Zoglin, Time

  • "Ayckbourn's ingenuity would be mere show if it didn't come with shrewd, funny observation. And I'm glad to report that, after the sentimentality of some of his recent work, both plays combine wry humour with a bit of bite." - Benedict Nightingale, The Times

  • "Ayckbourn's theme is love, how easy it is to fail one's partner, and how difficult to express love directly, without games of evasion and manipulation. (...) House carries the spectator effortlessly to the interval and conclusion, allowing jokes to grow towards punchlines, and pausing for dialogue and silence to take hold." - Tim Auld, Times Literary Supplement

  • "While House can stand on its own and Garden can't, your appreciation of House is vastly expanded by seeing Garden." - Joel Henning, Wall Street Journal

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       In House -- and Garden (see our review) -- Alan Ayckbourn literally stretches the bounds of theatre. The concept is a simple one, though difficult to carry out: both plays are performed simultaneously, with the same cast, the actors moving back and forth from one to the other. The two plays follow the same story (or stories). It is like real life: one can't be everywhere at once, and different things happen in different places. In one of the plays one sees what is happening in the house, in the other what is happening in the garden. In a way the focus isn't on the characters but on the locales. It makes for an odd limitation. But then even in plays that stand all on their own events take place off-stage -- it just happens that off-stage here is on-stage elsewhere (i.e. in Garden)
       The big question is, of course, whether this is just an impressive technical feat, or whether there is more to it than that. (It is, of course, an impressive technical feat -- and a problematic one, as the lack of side-by-side theatres that can stage these two plays limits where they can be shown.) The constraints are fairly daunting: Ayckbourn isn't just telling the same story from two different points of view. No, he insists on simultaneity. Everything happens in real-time, with the actors/characters constantly moving to and fro. And he has to try to present two full-fledged plays: it won't do to for the two plays to make sense only once both have been seen (or read).
       In some ways odder still is the experience for those reading the plays (conveniently published in one volume). The technical feat is largely lost on the page, and there is little to be won by this separate presentation. One suspects that these plays "work" considerably better staged than read.

       But the plays must also be considered by themselves. Each is seen by itself (there's no use in the audience rushing back and forth along with the actors: there's always something missed on the other stage), and each read by itself. So how does House fare ? Tolerably well -- but it probably won't be revived as a stand-alone play.
       The scene is in some English backwater town, hours from London. "By the time they get round to showing a film here most of the stars are dead", one of the character notes. The house is the Platt's family estate, and the grand occasion of the day is a garden fête, to be ceremonially opened by a French actress. Among the distinguished guests expected is novelist Gavin Ryng-Mayne, who is also politically very active and who might be coming to offer family scion Teddy Platt a chance to resume the family's impressive political tradition.
       Teddy Platt and his wife, Trish, aren't getting along so well: in fact Trish has edited him out of her life for the past few weeks. She ignores him completely when he is in the same room, making for some nice comic touches throughout. As Trish explains to their neighbour, Giles Mace: "It's not a river between us any more, Giles. It's an ocean"
       The reason for Trish's attitude ? Teddy has been having an affair with Giles' wife, Joanna.
       There is also teenage daughter Sally Platt, who the slightly older Mace-son, Jake, an aspiring journalist, is in love with. Sally also has some political aspirations, even if still only on the school "Senior Political Group"-level. She puts up with Jake, mainly out of convenience, but otherwise doesn't seem very interested in him.
       Complications ensue. Most are of the romantic or sexual variety. Gavin Ryng-Mayne shows himself to have some unpleasant proclivities, while Teddy's roving undermines his political aspirations. The French actress, Lucille Cadeau, show up, and it turns out she has some weaknesses of her own.
       Ayckbourn keeps things moving quite nicely, juggling his fairly large cast. There are a number of story-lines here, with a variety of pairs and pairings, but Ayckbourn manages to keep the focus just tight enough to avoid complete confusion. Still: it is a lot of material he is working with, and some of it is spread quite thin. One suspects that more expansive treatment of fewer plot lines and entanglements might have served the play better.

       House is a decent entertainment, a fine little romp with some nice touches. Ayckbourn, as usual, does the relationships between men and women particularly well, and achieves some fine scenes. Still, it feels slightly incomplete (and over-full at the same time). Some scenes and explanations seem to be missing -- and one is constantly left thinking (sometimes distractingly so): is the answer off in the Garden ?

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House: Reviews: Alan Ayckbourn: Other books by Alan Ayckbourn under review: Other books of interest under review:
  • See Index of Drama under review

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About the Author:

       British playwright Alan Ayckbourn was born in 1939. He has written more than fifty plays.

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© 2001-2009 the complete review

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