Superb Ayckbourn play by HDS

The cast of Harrogate Dramatic Society's production of Neighbourhood Watch. (Picture by Cheeseright and Morte Photography)
The cast of Harrogate Dramatic Society's production of Neighbourhood Watch. (Picture by Cheeseright and Morte Photography)

Review by Terry Harrison

Harrogate Dramatic Society presents Alan Ayckbourn’s Neighbourhood Watch, Harrogate Theatre.

A cosy sitting room greeted our arrival, albeit a little less sumptuous than some we have seen in this Society’s previous productions.

Ayckbourn is an expert at observation of middle class attitudes and behaviour which occasionally lead into darker areas.

Such is the case in this, his 75thplay, and perhaps this was intentionally reflected in the set.

Brother and sister, Martin and Hilda, have just moved into the Bluebill Hill Development and have invited a few neighbours to a housewarming.

A misunderstanding over a trespasser in their garden leads to further complications and the formation of the vigilante group of the title.

After all, down the road there is a council estate full of more unsavoury types, “drugs, violence and incest” and it is from such people that they feel the need for protection.

The police seem either unwilling or unable to help and so the residents consider more drastic action to be required, particularly following damage to a much-loved garden gnome, always a favourite “prop” with this author.

Although founded with the best of intentions by such a well-meaning group of people, matters quickly escalate into the introduction of a system of checkpoints, security passes and even the addition of a pair of stocks on a nearby roundabout.

It seems that it can only end in tears and, indeed ,it does with the death of Martin at the hands of the belated and somewhat over-zealous intervention of the authorities.

We had, however, been prepared for this eventuality as the play opens with the bereaved sister’s eulogy at the opening of a monument in his memory.

From the start of this monologue and throughout, Judith Kenley gave a superb performance as Hilda, as she learns to cope with the events which unfold, including Martin’s involvement with the amorous neighbour, Amy, played in an appropriately tempting manner by Gill McVey.

Chris Cowling also gave a fine portrayal of the initially meek Martin who gradually finds his more assertive side, becoming a national hero, courtesy of the Daily Mail. I also enjoyed Alan Harwood’s ex-security man, always ready for a confrontation, preferably armed with a baseball bat.

Other parts were also well played: Claire Hadden as the victim of abuse at the hands of her husband, Luther (Bill Crewe), Richard Naylor as the other half of Amy’s unsatisfactory relationship and Jenny Antram as the somewhat nosey neighbour whose journalistic experience is found to be confined to the compilation of the small-ads.

We are fortunate that we have such an accomplished group of actors who never fail to entertain us.