On Saturday I rose at 5 to drive to New York in time to queue up for possible returns for the three plays by Alan Ayckbourn (and directed by him, with his Scarborough actors) as part of the 59E59 theatre's "Brits off Broadway" event. In the end I managed to get into all three.

At noon: Farcicals, a new pair of one-act farces about the same four characters, two suburban married couples. They achieve their stated aim of fast-paced intricately contrived silliness.

At 3:30: Time of My Life, a 1992 play that's one of my favorites of his (now) 78 plays. It follows different members of a family at different tables at the same restaurant, one in real time over 2 hours, one (a marriage falling apart) jumping forward through various lunches over the next 2 years, and one (a new relationship) going backward through the previous 2 months ending with their first meeting. It achieves depths of character and insight as well as good laughs. This was a vastly better production than the one I saw in Philadelphia four years ago.


At 8:00: Arrivals & Departures, a new play that I couldn't call a comedy even in a loose sense. Two unlike characters forced together by circumstances on a railway station, recalling key moments in their respective lives. It had its effective stretches but, for me, wasn't fully realized or coherent. I wonder if he's going to choose to revise it.

All of these were pretty much ideally acted and directed, finding that balance of playing it "real" that Ayckbourn's kind of comedy so needs, and which American productions have trouble with (as they also do with nuances of class and character). Despite the challenges of getting there and home, I'm very glad I went.

After getting home at 2 a.m., I set out for a movie theater in Pennsylvania to catch the "NT Live" repeat of his A Small Family Business from the same Olivier stage on which it had its premiere 27 years ago. This too was a fine effort, superior to the Broadway production I saw a number of years ago, and its depiction of the slippery slope from idealism to corruption in a well-intentioned man and his family worked chillingly well.

For once, I can't find a single nit to pick with any of these efforts. This was theater of the highest standard, all around.