It Could Be Any One Of Us: World Premiere ReviewsThis page contains reviews of the world premiere production of Alan Ayckbourn's It Could Be Any One Of Us at the Stephen Joseph Theatre In The Round, Scarborough, in October 1983. 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.
It Could Be Any One Of Us (by Robin Thornber)
"Alan Ayckbourn's thirtieth play is a gently mischievous delight. Its title - It Could Be Anyone Of Us - is one of those lines to cherish from every country house thriller you've ever seen, and he takes that as the text for today in a fond parody of the genre. It's not one of his weightier works - although there's a bright heart in there somewhere - just a chuckling demonstration of the joy that comes from assured, masterly skill.
It conforms wickedly to almost all the conventions - preposterous plotting, slightly unreal, larger-than-life characters, even a stormy night with the wind rattling the latch. Almost everyone, even the amateur detective, has equal motivation and opportunity. In fact it's all so ingeniously balanced that the villain can vary from one performance to the next, depending on the turn of a card. And with Ayckbourn, you're never even quite sure who was the victim.
Let me explain. The play is set in the drawing room of what is clearly a large and lonely mock Tudor mansion (another delicious design from Edward Lipscomb) inhabited by a wealthy eccentric family with artistic pretensions.
The eldest brother, Mortimer, a failed composer, controls the cash. Tightly he blames his failure on the family - brother Brinton, a failed artist: sister Jocelyn, a failed novelist: Herman Norris, an insurance assessor who doesn't seem to have been too successful either; and her sullen daughter, Amy, who does nothing but eat.
To vent his spleen he threatens to dispossess them all by leaving the property to a near-stranger, a former pupil he invites for the weekend, thus providing them all with motive and opportunity.
Lavinia Bertram gives a knock-out performance as the threatened guest, all blonde bubbles and nervous laughs, particularly in the classically suspended first scene with Norris (John Arthur) as the protector - or maybe assailant. And there are fine performances too from Ursula Jones, Graeme Eton, Robin Herford and Liza Sadovy in Alan Ayckbourn's beautifully judged production at the Stephen Joseph Theatre in the Round at Scarborough."
(The Guardian, October 1983)
It Could Be Any One Of Us (by John Barber)
"The latest Alan Ayckbourn play - his 30th and already booked for London* - is billed as a comedy thriller. I attended its debut at his own Scarborough Theatre, and found him, for a man so full of plays, unusually playful.
"It has, I hope, one or two differences," he says. "For instance, the villain tends to vary from night to night. By all means, tell your friends who did it, it's unlikely to be the same when they come."
The device is not new to Ayckbourn, but comes fresh to the old Agatha formula he is both exploiting and sending up. Isolated manor, stormy night, alarming happenings, mayhem. And a barn-load of motives for murder. It is called It Could Be Any One Of Us.
An irascible composer, infuriated by the indifference of his family (and the world) to his music, announces he will disinherit his dependants, brother, sister, her lover and her punk daughter. All are failed artists. At his death, they will be homeless and penniless.
Instead he will bequeath everything to a former pupil, a pretty girl he has not seen for 20 years, invited for a weekend with this distraught household. Wendy turns out to be a homely mum with a pet shop and a braying laugh, worth killing by these Bohemians for her ordinariness as well as for her prospects. There seem to be three attempts on her life, and one on the composer's.
The fun of the thing is made funnier by the poised and deliberate over-citing of the parodied roles. But, for all the thunder, door-banging, screams, and the nasty incident of the severed doll's head, the thriller element proves tepid. There is no juicy murder, no canny detective and no real villain. The evening is not bad, but we are being had.
One glimpses Ayckbourn's deeper humanity in the drawing of the teenager driven by boredom to over-eat and mess people's things. And in the pathetic artist's obsessive memories of Wendy as a nymphet. But the playwright does not escape the trap of the Genre: if you reveal much about character, you spoil the mystery.
A minor Ayckbourn; then, taking a holiday from his shrewd and disillusioned marital comedies. But Ayckbourn on holiday makes agreeable enough company, and the playing of Lavinia Betram (Wendy), Liza Sadovy (teenager), and of Ursula Jones and John Arthur is usually amusing to watch."
(Daily Telegraph, 10 October 1983)
* There is no record of It Could Be Any One Of Us ever being optioned for a London production; this was probably an assumption on the author's part given an Ayckbourn play transferring to London had previously been almost a certainty.
It Could Be Any One Of Us (by David Jeffels)
"Alan Ayckbourn, Britain's most prolific playwright of the century, has ventured into new ground - comedy thrillers - for his latest play, his 30th, It Could Be Any One of Us which had its world premiere at the Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough.
It is liberally peppered with typical Ayckbourn humour, and like most of his previous works, the story evolves around a family in conflict. In this case it is a punk daughter, a mother who lives with her boyfriend, a highly strung artist son, and an eccentric composer, their brother.
Tension mounts because their home has been left to the brother who in turn makes a will leaving it to a long since forgotten and little known member of the family. But when she naively arrives to spend a weekend with them, she little suspects a chain of threats on her life.
For the private detective boy friend, it is a heaven-sent chance to find a culprit after years of failure in his job.
It is a well-written play, highly entertaining, and at times smacks of Ben Travers, though with more sardonic dialogue. Graeme Eton heads the cast as the domineering brother, while Ursula Jones is splendid as the mother, striving to keep the family peace. There are superb performances too from Robin Herford, Liza Sadovy, John Arthur and Lavinia Bertram.
Undoubtedly, with interest already being shown in it by London impresarios, this play, will, like all its predecessors from the pen of the brilliant writer, eventually - and deservedly - find its way to the West End."
(The Stage, 20 October 1983)
"Alan Ayckbourn came to the stage this week when the playwright opened his 30th play at Scarborough - a comedy thriller.
It Could Be Any One Of Us brings the tenseness of a whodunnit under the microscope of the writer's humour.
It is set in an old dusty house whose inmates share artistic frustration and a motive for murder.
There is even one of Agatha Christie's amateur detectives trying to spot the criminal and to boost his pride the other characters go along with him.
It was beautifully acted by the company and cleverly written, but there is no point telling who did it since there are three different endings for the cast to pick. It's at the theatre in the round. Scarborough."
(Daily Mail, 7 October 1983)
Permutations Of Perplexity (by Anthony Masters)
"The most successful moments in Alan Ayckbourn's new comedy thriller happily recall his early Family Circles, in which successive unnerving incidents led three daughters to suspect that their dear old parents were quietly trying to bump each other off. This time, after near-misses with crashing cars and wardrobes, the evil stroke is delayed until very late and what thrills there are come from wondering which of two possible victims will catch it from which of five murder suspects. Furthermore, with his usual delight in permutation playwriting. Ayckbourn promises a different script each night, playfully telling us we can safely reveal the ending.
Well, a good thriller must accommodate several solutions but not all will both astound and convince equally well. Speaking for one night's denouement - second night admittedly - if every performance's final segment is tacked on as if at random from a box of child's building blocks, it may often be as unsatisfying as I found it. Ayckbourn's ingenuity, I fear, has created a multiple thriller that works only as a logical machine - and not always too logically at that. I began to be reminded of Calvino's "solution" to Mozart's unfinished Zaide, where the exploration of possibilities passed beyond the point where they convinced or interested anyone but their creator.
Edward Lipscomb's set is Agatha Christie in the round: refectory table, grand piano and the usual trimmings on a flagstone floor bounded by a gothic staircase and heavy oak door. The resident family is a rather tragic one: four failed artists from a middle-aged generation, one from the next. Ursula Jones, drifting around in a bun and bohemian shawl, has 34 unfinished thrillers to her credit; Robin Herford is her lean and manic painter brother; Liza Sadovy as her daughter, in odd socks and a beret, does little but eat and insult people; and her balding lover, the fretful John Arthur, is a former claims assessor whose frustrated deductiveness gives Ayckbourn the home detective he needs.
The oldest brother (Graeme Eton), a prolifically unperformed atonal composer, lords it in smoking jacket and monogrammed slippers, abusing his unappreciative entourage and eliminating most of the possibilities of laughter that the truthful character-drawing leaves us. Dead ringer for a victim, he introduces another by arrogantly making the estate over to a former piano pupil (Lavinia Bertram), now a pet shop-owning housewife with an automatic slow cackle.
That sets up the plot - unfolded rather slowly, as Ayckbourn's habit of late. The big scene is delightful, with the terrified Miss Bertram picking out ever more excruciating nursery ditties on the piano in a howling storm, but it only emphasises the play's weakness in wedding this particular brand of theatrical algebra to such a spectacle of human vulnerability - which is just where the cast excels, from Miss Bertram's embarrassed tale of being abused by her husband for getting run over to Mr Arthur's pathetic eagerness to embrace the only solution the audience knows to be false."
(The Times, 10 October 1983)
Laughs And Terror From Superb Comedy-Thriller (by Lynne Curry)
"Alan Ayckbourn possibly gets his thrills from writing comedy, but never before has he ventured into the field of putting the wind up bona-fide theatre patrons for laughs.
Last night he tried it out at Scarborough's Stephen Joseph Theatre-in-the-Round. It was superb.
At this stage it would seem appropriate to get the clichés, over with (for indeed It Could Be Any One of Us is a comedy-thriller, and how often have you slept through one of these conglomerate displays of mega-clichés? ), so here they are: excruciatingly funny, brilliantly acted, magnificently lit, horrifyingly tense, musical accompaniment fabulous, set terrific, audience rolling in seats, should run and run. Whoever, moreover, would have guessed the villain?
But hold on - there is no villain. Or there is, but not a really wicked specimen, and by the time of the great unveiling arrives, well - so what?
There is no detective either. Or there is, but not a really sharp one, and by the time the great solution arrives, well - who cares?
There is no victim. Or there is, but only a bit of one, not your traditional corpse-behind-sofa-scream-from-the-daily-shock-horror routine.
It is a rather unconventional comedy-thriller.
Set in the gloomy and dusty Chalke family residence during two weeks in January, for the most part during a violent thunderstorm with full electric works and accompanying racket, the eccentric household is shocked to hear of Mortimer Chalke's plans to disinherit his brother and sister and leave them homeless.
Amid four inches of dust, with a dim light flickering before his contorted and vicious features, he reveals how he intends to leave failed writer Jocelyn, failed painter Brinton, washed-out private detective Norris Honeywell, his sister's "friend", and blue-lipped punk Amy, her daughter, in the proverbial lurch.
What he will do, the failed composer announces with venom, is leave to Wendy Windwood, a former music pupil, the entire estate, a gesture of gratitude to the only person who ever brought a ray of light into his godforsaken existence.
Enter Wendy, now the middle-aged mum of Gary and Graham and Gilbert, proprietor of Wendy Pets, and husband of Ollie, who has the newsagent's round the corner. The scene is set for Things To Happen, and they do.
Graeme Eton as Mortimer, Ursula Jones as Jocelyn, Robin Herford as Brinton, Lisa Sadovy as Amy, John Arthur as Norris, and Lavinia Bertram as Wendy act out a rich and completely original weave of comedy, and baited breath terror, and tenderness, and intuition, and touching magnanimity.
However, just as your eyes are watering at a sentimental bit, Ayckbourn comes in coolly with another side-rattler and deliberately ruins the whole effect.
I never thought it was possible to be frightened to death and laughing at the same time, but there you are. I expect nobody thought that Alan Ayckbourn would ever join the general ranks of those cursed comedy-thriller writers who generally condemn theatregoers to many hours of innocent misery, but he did.
There is a big difference, of course. The author who filled a stage with water and made actors revolve mid-act has done a hosing-down and turning-round job on the whole concept of this type of theatre.
And about time. It Could Be Any One of Us is excruciatingly funny, brilliantly acted, magnificently lit ... but I think you might have heard this before."
(Scarborough Evening News, 6 October 1983)
A Balance Of Fear And Laughter (by Mark Perrow)
"It Could Be Any One Of Us may be Alan Ayckbourn's 30th play, but in one sense at least it is a thrilling new departure.
For at the Stephen Joseph Theatre In The Round at Scarborough Ayckbourn's latest is his first exercise in that tricky and currently unfashionable type of play, the comedy thriller.
It is a path full of pitfalls and one that has already been trodden by other masters like Tom Stoppard and Simon Gray. But Ayckbourn has something unique to give to the world of stormy nights and ancient country houses harbouring murderers - he imposes on to the thriller genre the comic delights of his own theatre of embarrassment.
The result is a mixture that should please everyone most of the time. Lovers of detection, strange accidents and false clues will get what they came for because the author has stuck faithfully to the protocol of a good thriller's plot; yet caught in this mechanism are the very same characters we have been offered before - and for which Ayckbourn is understandably famous. He is simply proving that in, the theatre at least, you can pour old wine into new bottles.
The wine in this case is the Chalke family, a sorry menagerie of failed painters, musicians and writers ruined by their mother's false ambition and locked into a petulant cycle of mutual recrimination. There is Mortimer (Graeme Eton) who declares he will disinherit the lot of them in favour of a former pupil, in spite of the pleas of crumpled matriarch Jocelyn played with a good deal of variety by Ursula Jones.
Into this murderous and melodramatic atmosphere steps the sacrificial lamb of the play Wendy Windwood, the pupil who now has three children and a pet shop, and who aspires to run a kennel for King Charles spaniels.
It is the collision of practical Wendy and the terrible Chalkes that is the source of the humour in the play as well as the suspense - as a series of near-miss accidents begin to make the good woman's drab litany "couldn't be helped, nobody's fault" increasingly inaccurate.
As played by Lavinia Bertram, Wendy comes to dominate the play because she is just more real than the other characters, and although she is ridiculed she displays a mercifulness to others that has to be admired.
And whodunnit? it depends on which night you visit the theatre because Ayckbourn provides a series of options. This means that an excellent comic denouement in the hands of John Arthur's detective loses the last word in favour of a highly contrived conclusion - the one weak move in a skilful balancing act of two old enemies, fear and laughter."
(Yorkshire Evening Press, 6 October 1983)
All reviews are copyright of the respective publication.