THEATRE REVIEW – “A Brief History of Women” written and directed by Alan Aykbourn – The New Vic Theatre
“A Brief History of Women” is being performed in repertory by The New Vic theatre along with “Taking Steps” using pretty much the same cast in both, Frances Marshall simply replacing Leigh Symonds for “A Brief History”
Alan Aykbourn has been a prolific playwright since the 1960’s and whilst “Taking Steps” was written in the 1970’s, “A Brief History of Women” is his latest offering. Like “Taking Steps”, this too is set in a single house.
It tells the story of Anthony (Tony) Spates ( Antony Eden) from 1925, when he is a young footman at a society engagement party at Kirkbridge Manor, through to 1985 when he is a stand-in manager of the hotel which Kirkbridge Manor has become. We also see him in 1945 as a teacher at Kirkbridge Manor Prep school and as the administrator in 1965 at Kirkbridge Arts Centre.
In each of these four parts we see the women who have shaped his life, the life of a relatively unremarkable man who has been involved with a collection of remarkable women. But the play is not just the story of his life, it is also the story of the building, as it moves from grand manor house, to a school, to an arts centre and finally to a modern hotel.
There are gentle laughs and poignant moments throughout the play, none more so than at the end when Tony meets again with Caroline (Frances Marshall) who was the first woman to kiss him. For me the best written and funniest part of the play is that set in 1965, as a pantomime is being rehearsed in the arts centre. For the most part Tony simply watches on, a slightly sad spectator. Russell Dixon as the dame pretty well steals the whole scene. That doesn’t stop Tony eventually becoming involved in the action however and there he meets the woman who will eventually become his wife.
The play is not without some faults however. Antony Eden is undoubtedly too old to play the young footman in the first scene, although he ages very well as the action unfurls and his overall performance is excellent at the centre of the play. The second part, set in 1945, has a very unlikely conclusion which I found impossible to believe. This may not be classic Aykbourn but it has a feeling of being an elegy which is well worth going to see.
“A Brief History of Women” runs at the New Vic Theatre, Newcastle-under-Lyme until October 28th. Telephone the box office for tickets on 01782 717962 or email email@example.com.
Written by Ian Corbishley- Hitmix Radio
Photographs by Tony Bartholomew.