A Small Family Business at the National Theatre
Once again, the National Theatre has surpassed all levels of theatric eccentricity that do humbly precede it with this elaborate production of Alan Ayckbourn’s play A Small Family Business. First written and designed for the Olivier Theatre in 1987, the play makes a striking comeback under the direction of Adam Penford and designer Tom Hatley.
The set is the realisation of every young (and old!) girl’s dream: a life-size doll’s house, with actual running water and a smart red-brick frontier. Ayckbourn had observed the vast capacity of space in which he was to work and astutely saw the advantage of slicing it up into various different smaller sets to fit his domestic style. The different rooms of the house allow for the comedy and fluidity of action that is so entertaining in this play, while exposing all the intermingled facets of family and business life that represent something like the birth of the Mafia.
For if you imagine that this is indeed a life-size doll’s house, then the scale of playtime it habituates has to meet the mark. The play divulges a concern for the moral welfare of society as the standards and secrets of the extended family come to light, shocking and revolting the newly instated and strongly principled head of Ayres and Gracie furniture business, Jack McCracken. With dodgy deals, filthy money, and a good few Italian hunks, the signs of a “good, small family business” are all there.
This play calls for some truly old-fashioned, controlled acting, and the cast do not miss a mark in their delivery. Nigel Lindsay’s McCracken is a passionate force in the family, yet soft and doting at just the right touch. Playing the role of the immensely creepy private detective Benedict Hough, Matthew Cottle gives a wickedly strong performance, with such attention to detail that he is genuinely revolting. Niky Wardley, as McCracken’s sister-in-law, embellishes the whole performance with her fiery dynamic.
The harmony of this play is flawless. The dialogue, especially McCracken’s golden one-liners, and the flow of the action are constructed like a well-manufactured box – sharp, accurate and a joy to behold. The mechanics and the tight form of the play create a tension so accurately crafted that it hits notes of perfect beauty, a quality reflected in the tight infallibility of the family bond.
Photos: Alistair Muir
A Small Family Business is at the National Theatre until 27th August 2014. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.
Watch a trailer for A Small Family Business here: