Review: Table Manners at Buxton Opera House

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Families, eh? Who’d have them?

Alan Ayckbourn would, because they provide such rich material for his plays. Table Manners is one of his 1970s three-play sequence The Norman Conquests, and Talking

Scarlet have brought it to Buxton Opera House until Saturday, February 28.

It follows three couples over a weekend that progresses from mildly irritating to totally disastrous, over lunch, dinner and breakfast, sometimes hilariously, but also poignantly and recognisably.

There’s quiet country girl Annie (Jo Castleton), whose quest for a bit of excitement puts cats among pigeons.

Her sister-in-law Sarah (Polly Smith) is a kind of low-rent Margot Leadbetter, complete with sense of humour bypass and determination to organise.

Sarah’s husband Reg (Marcus Hutton) just wants a quiet life but wants in vain.

Norman, Annie’s brother (David Callister) is the fly in the ointment: wannabe gigolo, class clown and completely self-absorbed.

His career woman wife Ruth (Anna Brecon) understands him all too well.

Finally there’s well-meaning but clueless Tom, Annie’s neighbour and possibly suitor (Ben Roddy), who just can’t find the right words.

It all makes for fertile Ayckbourn territory, and Talking Scarlet do it more than justice.

The strong cast and exquisite 1970s touches create an ambience which brings back the era of floaty dresses and flowery curtains, and Ayckbourn’s razor-sharp dialogue and acerbic observation of people will bring tears to your eyes.

LYNNE PATRICK