Is it really Harry Gration’s and Amy Garcia’s voices opening Act 1 by interviewing the hero, Murray (Richard Stacey)?
Yes it is, but the touch of verismo does not last too long as the hero’s return devastates the small circle of friends he left behind 17 years before. Gradually the reasons for his abrupt departure become clear and lives fall apart, or are cut short.
Typically for Alan Ayckbourn, plot momentum is allocated to couples who barely tolerate each other’s presence. For all the jokes, this is a bleak view of humanity, rescued by a positive denouement that is just believable.
Murray’s return as a war hero stirs unwelcome memories in his home town. Kara (Emma Manton) and Brad (Stephen Billington) live at the big house.
He is the bully that always comes to a sticky end in Ayckbourn plays.
Stephen Billington plays him so well that when he is verbally rebuked for his appalling behaviour to his wife, the audience broke into spontaneous applause - not because of what was said, but because of Billington’s brilliant portrayal of the cad.
There is more than a little of the Flashman in him.
Derek (Russell Dixon) plays a model train enthusiast and uxorious husband to Alice (Elizabeth Boag), the statuesque mayoress. Alice’s history with both Murray and Brad provides the well-spring for the play’s multiplying channels and swamps, swamps which threaten to suck down the returning hero and his naive bride.
Madrababacascabuna, also known as Baba, (debutante, Terenia Edwards) is the bride Murray brings back from wherever the army last sent him.
Her rapid mastery of English, despite some amusing frustrations, charts her interaction with the other couples: ‘ominous’ and ‘sinister’, for example, are on her vocabulary list just as the predatory
Brad is making his approach. As her command of English advances, so her resistance to the condescending people around her grows.
Finally, it is the downtrodden Kara who frees herself (from Brad) and Murray (from his impossible dream), leaving the way open for an upbeat ending.
Can this really be Sir Alan’s 79th play? We in Scarborough are privileged indeed to have witnessed the first performances of all of them.
Hero’s Welcome runs at the Stephen Jospeh Theatre until October 3.
The cast, plus special guests, will also present a semi-staged gala reading of Ayckbourn’s epic new work, The Divide. This five-part satire of the sexes will be performed on Sunday September 27.
Review by Mike Tilling