House & Garden: National Theatre Reviews

This page contains a selection of extracts from the reviews of the London premiere production of Alan Ayckbourn's House & Garden at the National Theatre, during 2000. All reviews are the copyright of the respective publication and / or author.

Daily Telegraph (Charles Spencer)
You will have a good time if you only see one of these plays but you will gain fart more insight into both the characters, and Ayckbourn's Astonishing ingenuity, if you see both. Ayckbourn's recent work has sometimes seemed alarmingly glib and superficial. Here, though, the fiendish difficulty of the challenge he has set himself seems to have spurred him to some of his finest, and deepest, comedy.

The Guardian (Michael Billington)
These superb plays prove that nobody has a sharper eye than Ayckbourn for the quotidian cruelties of English life.

The Observer (Kate Kellaway)
They are a masterpiece of timing that Mussolini could not have bettered. But are they any thing more than a technical tour de force? The short and satisfactory answer to this question is: yes. The dramatic experiment goes far beyond a clever trick. There is an artistic thrill in the sense of a life going on simultaneously elsewhere, the sure knowledge that for every story we find ourselves caught up in, there is another running alongside. But the beauty of the plays - unlike life - is that we can fully sample two versions of one day, which together make a delicious, substantial sandwich.

Variety (Matt Wolf)
But just as
House & Garden structurally extend this playwright in new directions, so that an exit in one play can anticipate the same character’s entrance into the other, so, too, does House push the envelope in terms of content. I can’t think of another Ayckbourn moment to rival the encounter in the second act of House between a visiting silver-haired novelist, Gavin Ryng-Mayne (“with a y,” he is forever announcing helpfully, as if every fresh acquaintance were intending to write him a letter), and the Platts’ pubescently curious daughter. Separated in age by some four decades, the two launch into an erotic fantasy which then gets scarily ruptured by Gavin, whom a silken Malcolm Sinclair plays, matchlessly, in the performance of the evening. (Listen to him urge Sally to “sniff the wine, deeply” and feel the frisson.)

The Times (Benedict Nightingale)
Ayckbourn's ingenuity would be mere show without shrewd, funny observation. And I'm glad to report that, after the sentimentality of his recent work, both plays combine wry humour with a bit of bite.

Daily Mail (Michael Coveney)
See both plays, laugh and marvel. But see
House before Garden.

The Independent (Paul Taylor)
I both plays, there are indubitably entertaining patches and familiar Ayckbourn preoccupations as three marriages founder through the blithe insensitivity gf good as well as bad characters.

Independent on Sunday (Kate Bassett)
House is frequently hilariously funny. Ayckbourn seems inspired here, producing dozens of corking lines. Ryng-Mayne, describing his supposedly filthy sexual fantasies, memorably flips into wonderful silliness as Gideon Bibles get involved. Roger Glossop's grand sets are splendid as well. However, it must be said, Garden is rather a disappointment narratively. The action feels diffuse, the dialogue is sometimes repetitive, the interconnections between the two plays are not as neat as you might expect, and there aren't that many surprise revelations. I suppose the fact that you can see the plays either way round means that there can't be a strong climax, either.
Characters' heart-to-hearts can sound wooden and authorially didactic. Nevertheless, Ayckbourn is asking searching questions about selfishness and decency, about families' failures to communicate, and about the courage it takes to quit failing partnerships.

Sunday Telegraph (John Gross)
The ingenuity of the double event delights. Much of the comedy is hilarious: once again Ayckbourn proves himself a master of cross-purposes, farcical scrapes and smaller absurdities, equally at home with eternal comic themes and contemporary cliches. Yet for all its pleasures, the evening isn't an unqualified success.

Sunday Times (John Peter)
Of the two plays,
Garden is the weaker. The difference between House & Garden and Ayckbourn's trilogy, The Norman Conquests, is that here the plotting and characterisation do not quite keep up with the engineering. However well, in retrospect the episodes in the two plays seem to interlock.

All reviews are copyright of the respective publication.