If you like your comedy a little dark and with some political edge then the Caxton Players have just the thing for you this week as they present Alan Ayckbourn’s 2011 work Neighbourhood Watch.
It’s not quite satire, because the targets are too far down the political food chain, but it is an indictment of the quotidian prejudices and false assumptions that blight contemporary society. The Caxtons have been particularly prescient to put the production on during an election campaign in which the levels of so called ‘fake news’ have never been higher. The moral of the play is that if you tell people what they want to hear, which is mostly confirmations of what they already believe, (correctly or more usually incorrectly) then you won’t go far wrong.
On an upmarket estate whose back gardens offer a view down the hill to the local council estate (a place of dread for the characters in the play, filled with nameless horrors and working class people) a newly arrived brother and sister hold a sparsely attended housewarming. Here they meet a terrifying cross section of their new neighbours, including monomaniacal retired security consultant Rod (brilliantly played by Chris Dempsey), bewildered Welsh cuckold Gareth ( a terrific performance from Bruce Forster and the ill matched couple next door Luther and Magda (Kieron James and Tessa King who manage to be both disturbing and disturbed by turns).
The event culminates in a nasty case of mistaken identity, an assault and the theft of a clarinet (you didn’t see that coming), and the end result is increasing discontent on the hill, leading to the setting up of the titular neighbourhood watch.
So far so gentle but it’s here that the piece takes a surprising turn as the watch soon develops into a fascistic local policing system complete with road blocks, stocks and a public morality code. There’s a lot of sexual tension threatening to boil over too, particularly in the growing romance between Liz Drury’s sirenic Amy and Dean Wright’s Martin but there are other undercurrents too that don’t reveal themselves until later. It’s a bit like Neighbours meets 1984 with hints of Abigail’s Party in the mix for good measure and if it sounds like it’s all going to end in tears, well by Jesus it does.
All the cast are excellent and Debra West’s direction keeps the pace running just nicely so it doesn’t become too confusing and it’s certainly never dull. There aren’t many jokes as such but you’ll be hard pressed to find a more ironic and knowing piece of comedy on offer anywhere. Definitely worth a visit.