Family Circles: World Premiere Reviews

This page contains reviews of the world premiere production of Alan Ayckbourn's Family Circles at the Library Theatre, Scarborough, in August 1970. It is not a complete set of reviews as the aim of the page is to offer a flavour of how the play was originally received and to offer a cross-section of opinion. All reviews on this page are the copyright of the respective publication and / or author and should not be reproduced.

The Story So Far… (by Merete Bates)
The Story So Far… at Scarborough Theatre at first seems yet another bright, clever construction by Alan Ayckbourn, this time on the hypothesis of marital musical chairs.
The scene is a wedding anniversary attended by three daughters with their respective beaux. After each act, behold a tinkle of stardust music, and the young couples switch both clothes and partners. A potentially thin plot revolving round tea at home and celebration off-stage is complicated by mysterious criminal tendencies on the part of the parents. Sawn-through bannisters, cut glass sandwiches: "Who is trying to murder who?"
But the characters are quite carefully drawn by their obsessions and weaknesses: Elisabeth Sladen welling at the edge of tearful hysteria; Ronald Herdman a burbling hypochondriac; Stephanie Turner brittle and spry as a margarine advert. The acting is at all times enthusiastic - as is the direction by the author. But at moments it is even moving: Eva Shickle, especially, portrays a wry, sharp, though oddly pathetic mother.
Indeed, this play is perhaps more closely observed and sympathetic than any of Ayckbourn's earlier works.
It seems to tentatively try, and almost to succeed, in making a point beyond mere amusing machinations of hypotheses. The characters, however often they change partners, remain caught unhappily by their personal limitations. Whoever they try to work with, they repeat the same mistakes.
(The Guardian, 21 August 1970)

New Comedy Not Up To Writer’s Last (by Eric Shorter)
It was hardly to be expected that so soon after his West End success with
How the Other Half Loves, Alan Ayckbourn would produce another comedy as strikingly ingenious and joyous in its stagecraft.
No wonder, therefore, his new piece at the Library Theatre, Scarborough
The Story So Far… lacks the assured theatrical line and simple neatness of the earlier work.
It remains, however, a pleasant evening’s entertainment and obviously gave much pleasure to a crowded holiday audience at this theatre-in-the-round last night.
Again it deals with several married couples. Again there is novelty in the construction. And again the dialogue, without being especially witty, flows with easy humour.
But this time there is a theme: an idea, no less. It is marital incompatibility.
And although it is handled with a carefully light touch it casts a slight cloud over the merry bickerings, as if the author was trying to make a statement.
A parental wedding anniversary brings together three young couples. Two have made ill-assorted marriages. The third is on the brink. Sarcastic repartee fills the air: and the types - nervous, bossy, taciturn and carefree - are amusingly drawn and acted.
The old people are also slyly trying to bump off each other - glass in the sandwiches, collapsing ladders, poisoned night-caps and so on. So far, so wry. Then comes the technical twist, which is that after each act the visitors change partners.
They do not change characters.
The effect is therefore at once confusing and superfluous, except that it makes a change.
The final tableau is anti-marital - lesbian, homosexual and celibate. There is, as I say, an idea lurking here, and the company, especially Stephanie Turner, Elisabeth Sladen and Ronald Herdmen, skirt round it with a lively, exact and often admirable sense of fun under the author’s clever direction, but it all seems slightly aimless.
(Daily Telegraph, 21 August 1970)

Ayckbourn Presents Another Winner
"At the age of 30, Alan Ayckbourn must surely be Britain's foremost comic playwright. First came that ultra-successful Relatively Speaking, which enjoyed a profitable run in London's West End - it was followed by a BBC television presentation - and it was replaced by How the Other Half Loves, considered a knock-out by Punch.
And last night a capacity house in Scarborough's Library Theatre was the first audience to view his latest offering
The Story So Far….
Perhaps it was the weather which helped to attract a first-night maximum audience; perhaps it was that on holiday at the moment the town has some theatre-lovers; or perhaps, indeed, Mr. Ayckbourn has by now a large following in England, especially Yorkshire, where he has lived for the last 13 years.
The Story So Far… is a masterpiece. Audiences which flock to see today's more permissive Oh, Calcutta and Hair could quite easily mingle with those who enjoyed - and do still enjoy - Noël Coward's Brief Encounter to make up an appreciative audience for Mr. Ayckbourn's latest. To see three generations laughing and loving the same script must spell success for a playwright.
One can do no better than describe the plot of the play in the author's own words:
"I suppose the question this play poses is one that many married partners might well have asked themselves at some stage or other. Either idly, or, in some cases, in deadly seriousness. What would have happened had I married someone else? What would have happened to me as a person? Would I have been very different had I married, say, a booming extrovert rather than the nervous creature with whom I share my breakfast table? And what might have happened to them?"
In the play six individuals are all, at one time or another, married or about to be married. The question posed is: who is best suited to whom?
The Scarborough Theatre Trust players give a fine "team" performance. In which Elisabeth Sladen as a neurotic and fastidious housewife, Ronald Herdman as a trembling and nervous husband, and Stephanie Turner, as an effervescent extrovert, are masterly.
The play, which will be staged until next Wednesday, is directed by its author."
(Scarborough Evening News, 21 August 1970)

New Ayckbourn Comedy
"There are times when we would have liked to see Alan Ayckbourn's play-writing more objective, more purposeful, more realistic, and even more thoughtfully coherent, but we must thank him for exercising his imaginative talent for constructing humorous situations, peopling them with strange and eccentric characters and closing episodes with delightful curtains. So long as he continues to write his characteristic quick-fire, staccato dialogue we will anticipate and look forward to more of his rich brand of comedy.
The title of his latest production,
The Story So Far... given a premiere in-the-round at the Library Theatre, Scarborough, last week gives no clue to the rhyme or reason of this exercise until one reads in a foreword in the programme which indicates that the playwright is posing a question that many married couples might well have asked themselves: what would have happened had they married someone else? A very absorbing, entertaining and mirth-and-laughter provoking speculation, which is what this comedy amounts to. The Story So Far... - can it be that Mr Ayckbourn has a sequel in mind, it has possibilities.
It is all good fun and the cast of eight makes the most and best of it, extracting from a capacity audience of all ages almost continuous laughter and an enthusiastic final reception.
Robert Peck and Eve Shickle - an elderly married couple, bluff, brusque and not very good tempered husband, and an inconsequential flustered wife - are celebrating their wedding anniversary with their family - three daughters, Deirdre, an effervescent extrovert, Polly, very forthright and strong willed; Jenny, dutiful, domesticated, but rather neurotic; Oliver, the imperturbable and sophisticated tycoon husband; David another son-in-law, nerve-wracked and dithering in any crisis; James, a shy hesitant boy-friend.
The play is adroitly directed by Mr Ayckbourn, and the company are to be especially congratulated on an excellent performance."
(The Stage, 27 August 1970)

All reviews are copyright of the respective publication.