Time has not been kind to Alan Ayckbourn's 1984 play A Chorus of Disapproval at the Harold Pinter Theatre. Or at least that's the way it feels in Trevor Nunn's undeniably glossy but stilted and awkward production.
Every gently amusing line is made leaden, every scene change becomes an exercise in the shunting and sliding of props and backdrops, and what delicacy there may have been in the text is thoroughly trampled.
Guy Jones (Nigel Harman), a timid widower, joins the local operatic society –- which is attempting to stage Gay's The Beggar's Opera -- as a way of reengaging with life. He's initially cast in the minor role of Crook-Fingered Jack but slowly makes his way up the ladder until he's required to step in as Macheath.
During this time, he grows in confidence considerably, becoming romantically entangled with both the predatory local vamp, Fay (Daisy Beaumont in a stand-out performance), and Hannah (Ashley Jensen) the wife of the production's director, Dafydd (Rob Brydon).
Brydon plays Daffyd with just the right mix of rumpled pathos and aggressive Welshness; he's a kind of Eeyore figure in a shabby cardigan, bossy but not unkind. And while his love for theater is pure, he's all too aware of his failings as a husband and father; in fact, one of the play's most engaging scenes sees him confessing his shortcomings to Guy, a moment of intimacy which is inadvertently broadcast.
While Brydon's performance is the play's most compelling, he's in some ways hampered by Nunn's reimagining of the role – which is essentially a character role -- as a star part. Early on, Nunn seems to be encouraging the actor to mug and grandstand, brushing everyone else aside in the process, but fortunately, this is reined in as the play progresses.
In sharp contrast, Harman's Guy is a complete nonentity. His growth in confidence is conveyed solely by a change in clothing and a straightening of his spine; nothing in his manner or demeanor gets this transformation across. Indeed, it's hard to fathom why he has two women fighting over him. Moreover, the play's casual sexism has not weathered well over the past decades, and Nunn's production only makes it grate further.
Admittedly, there is some neat paralleling between Guy's predicament and the world of The Beggar's Opera, and some observational humor about the passions and rivalries of amateur dramatics, but neither sustains a light comedy that runs close to three hours and – inexcusably – feels even longer.