Evening shows from Tues - Sat.
Saturday matinees every week.
Sunday matinees from 26 March.
Closed Good Friday, Easter Sunday and Sunday 30 April.
'Twas the week before Christmas and all through the house sat six members of Pendon Writers’ Circle. All suffering the same predicament - Writer’s block!
Jess writes bodice rippers. Grace creates children’s stories. Vivvi has completed her 6th crime novel – unpublished of course! Clem is a sci-fi fanatic. Brevis is adapting The Pilgrim’s Progress into – wait for it – a musical!
“You’ve got your imagination, haven’t you? To fall back on? You can make up worlds of your own, can’t you?” declares Arnold, the group’s chairman. Let’s pool our ideas, he says, and create a joint work. Oh no! No! Can’t do that, is the stubborn reaction from the non-writing writers. Definitely not!
Until - in the best corny tradition of thrillers - a raging storm ensues. A dramatic clap of thunder strikes. And all the various fictions of the wannabe writers’ spring startlingly and vividly to life.
Hold onto your hats as this hilarious comedy zigzags from Victorian melodrama, to 1930’s detective cliff hanger, to extreme science fiction fantasy – with a touch of Sid the Squirrel thrown in! Result? A side-splitting thoroughly bonkers example of what can happen when you let Alan Ayckbourn’s imagination run riot.
You’d be mad to miss it!
“Ayckbourn has huge fun… Improbable Fiction is a hit: fact.”Yorkshire Evening Press
This is Alan Ayckbourn at his most playful, throwing away the rulebook and starting from scratch.
It works rather like an eBay auction: steady, careful bids at the beginning but finishing in a mad flurry.
At the end of the Mill at Sonning’s production we feel like we’ve been on an out of control fairground ride which has managed to stop safely.
The first act is a relatively quiet sitcom centred around a writers’ group. This is where the playwright breaks Rule One because not much happens. The characters rub up against each other and we see the frictions, there are jokes and it’s funny in a gentle way. The pace is maintained by some lively movement from one character — the irascible Brevis Winterton played by Laurence Kennedy.
But finally, in the dying seconds of this first act, we get a taste of what’s to come.
Out go the dull inadequates of the writers’ group and in come the fruits of their imaginations — their stories and characters come alive in the second half and we are treated to a bewildering and breathless stream of disconnected stories — linked by one theme, the chairman of the writers’ group, who is using it all as material to liven up his dull existence.
The changeover is as shocking as having your heart restarted. Suddenly from nowhere we are faced with a Gothic 19th century novel with its evil and innocent characters. These quickly morph into a Twenties-style murder investigation calling upon Agatha Christie and — with a poetry-spouting DCI — Inspector Morse.
The action swings between these two plotlines until a third is introduced — one of the writers’ group is a barely literate science fiction writer, so his strand involves alien hunters dressed in military overalls.
Now we have a three-way almost revolving circus. The skill from the playwright and the actors here is that the cast of seven manages to play every role from louche 19th century aristocrat to sweet goblin — yes, one of those works its way in as well.
Your reviewer saw Ayckbourn’s original of this play 12 years ago and you can safely assume that this version, with the Mill’s customary expertise and energy, matches it at the very least. That’s helped by the director, Robin Herford, being both a regular with Ayckbourn and at the Mill.
The result is a varied night of entertainment which just about covers all bases except sex — and it really isn’t needed here, there’s quite enough going on already, thank you.
Being lost for words must be an alien concept for prolific playwright Alan Ayckbourn, yet that’s the basis of Improbable Fiction, his 69th play, now being performed at The Mill at Sonning, writes Carol Evans.
But, true to form, he does, as with a clap of thunder, the mood changes completely and Arnold’s suggestion of pooling ideas to stimulate imagination takes flight. To reveal more would be a spoiler but what a crazy flight of fancy this is: a most improbable fiction indeed as Victorian intrigue effortlessly segues into a murder hunt by slick trench-coated sleuths to sharp-talking alien abduction investigators.
Although Alan Ayckbourn has written serious drama, often interspersed with surface comedy, many of us prefer the straight-ahead slapstick and comic capers that make up much of his output. This play, his 69th, is firmly in the latter category.
The action concerns six members of a writers circle and their chairman, the gentle, encouraging Arnold, played sympathetically by Andrew Bone. None of the other six have managed to find success and are currently suffering writer's block.
Sarah Lawrie plays Viwi, who has completed six unpublished crime novels, while Angela Sims as Grace produces children's stories, except she hasn't actually written a word of the story she tells her friends about.
Jess, neatly underplayed at first by Julie Teal, writes Victorian melodrama bodice-rippers, when she gets to write anything at all. Ben Porter as Clem is a writer of turgid sci-fi yarns, where the characters often use the wrong descriptive words. Laurence Kennedy gave a bright, slightly over the top portrayal of Brevis Winterton, but then what choice did he have playing a man who is adapting The Pilgrim's Progress into – I kid you not – a musical? Rhiannon Handy was suitably scatty and somewhat nervous as Ilsa, a minder who comes hi to look after Arnold's bedridden mother.
Comedy in the first-half meeting of these folks is sporadic, but it soon explodes into hilarious farce in act two, as the characters in the various half-written yarns come to life and act out their bad dialogue, improbable narratives in front of the startled Arnold. This gives the rest of the cast a chance to go over the top outrageously and they do, of course.
Mild little Ilsa becomes a flirtatious Victorian maid, Bombastic Brevis hams it up as a Space Alien hunter spouting wrong words all over the place and Jess becomes a purple prose narrator. Perhaps best of all, Clem becomes a PD James-type old-style detective, spouting poetry and producing a voice much like actor Edward Fox. Viwi becomes his downtrodden sergeant. When someone is described as 'stealing, drinking and whoring' but 'he has his good side', we know we are in vintage Ayckbourn territory. Neatly-paced and choreographed by director Robin Herford, this play, first produced in Scarborough in 2005 is one of Ayckbourn's best, played to the hilt for laughs by this cast.