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the Complete Review
the complete review - drama


Alan Ayckbourn

general information | review summaries | our review | links | about the author

To purchase RolePlay

Title: RolePlay
Author: Alan Ayckbourn
Genre: Drama
Written: 2001
Length: 99 pages
Availability: in Damsels in Distress - US
in Damsels in Distress - UK
in Damsels in Distress - Canada
  • RolePlay was first performed 4 September 2001 at the Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough, in a production directed by Alan Ayckbourn
  • The trilogy Damsels in Distress consists of the plays:

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Our Assessment:

B+ : fun and entertaining, quite well done

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Daily Telegraph . 9/9/2002 Charles Spencer
The Guardian . 11/9/2001 Michael Billington
The Guardian . 9/9/2002 Michael Billington
The Independent . 12/9/2002 Paul Taylor
The Independent . 15/9/2002 Kate Bassett
New Statesman . 23/9/2002 Sheridan Morley
The Spectator . 14/9/2002 Patrick Carnegy
The Times . 9/9/2002 Benedict Nightingale
TLS . 20/9/2002 Russell Davies

  Review Consensus:

  Enjoyed it; generally consider it the best of the three

  From the Reviews:
  • "The final piece, RolePlay, finds Ayckbourn at his classic best, with the action set, as on so many previous occasions, at a disastrous dinner party. (...) Every character is sharply drawn, every gag comes off, and the comedy is fuelled by a palpable depth of humanity and escalating dramatic tension." - Charles Spencer, Daily Telegraph

  • "(T)he trilogy's high point." - Michael Billington, The Guardian

  • "Seeing the trio in a day, it is the concluding RolePlay that for me emerges as vintage Ayckbourn." - Michael Billington, The Guardian

  • "The last piece, RolePlay, returns to vintage Ayckbourn territory: the dinner party from hell. (...) Again, there are plot niggles (...), but it's heartening how this gruesomely funny collision of worlds gradually convinces the shy fiancé (...) that he must seek a world elsewhere." - Paul Taylor, The Independent

  • "(T)he best of the bunch (.....) There are also a few chilling, and richly ambiguous moments" - Kate Bassett, The Independent

  • "(A)n entertaining throwback to Ayckbourn's early days. He's always excellent when he handles people divided by class, accent, habits and values. (...) You'll laugh, too. A lot." - Benedict Nightingale, The Times

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       RolePlay is set in Justin and Julie-Anne's apartment. At the beginning of the play they are preparing for a family dinner. It will be the first time Justin meets Julie-Ann's parents, and the first time Julie-Ann meets Justin's mother. The couple are also planning on announcing that they are engaged.
       It's soon obvious that Justin and Julie-Anne are rushing into things. They are devoted to one another because of their own needs, but clearly they are not particularly well matched. As they warn each other about their parents, it's also clear that marriage is an escape for both of them.
       They don't really communicate well: neither seems to be able to tell when the other is joking or serious. Ayckbourn literally spells it out for his audience that miscommunication is a major issue here, rendering part of one exchange:

Julia-Ann: (offstage, inaudibly) Oh queasily, steel cabbage.
Jsutin: (offstage, inaudibly) Slee pud rye it motherway.
       Having family over also means radical changes: Justin is instructed to call his fiancée 'Julie-Ann' rather than -- as he usually does -- just 'Julie' (since her parents can't stand that). And Julie-Ann also announces that she wants them to stop living together -- and, more significantly, stop having sex -- until the wedding, a prospect that Justin imagines to be intolerable (it's fairly clear that he sees Julie-Ann's main purpose in his life as being a person to offer him convenient sexual release). Julie-Ann also describes her honeymoon fantasy to him -- when they'll finally be able to do it again -- and it's clear that she wants fairy-tale romance, not reality, i.e. she's deluding herself if she thinks Justin can fulfil her dreams.
       Their different priorities are soon clear enough: a missing dinner fork is a major disaster, an imperfection that Julie-Ann can't allow (as her parents would notice it). Desperately, she rushes out to find one. Meanwhile, an unexpected guest drops in -- literally. Justin finds Paige dangling from the balcony; she tried to climb down from an apartment several stories up. Paige is desperate to escape her corrupt and violent boxing promoter boyfriend, and going out the window was the only way she could elude the bodyguard Micky -- but he soon comes after her. Paige and Micky are at an impasse: she won't return to the apartment, and he can't force her. So they too stay for dinner.
       The invited guests finally come too. Justin's mother shows up nicely drunk (and having lost her current beau along the way) and mistakes Paige for her son's girlfriend. Julie-Ann's parents, meanwhile, are intolerably cheery.
       Things do not go exceptionally well, but it is all fairly amusing (for the audience). The situations are a bit too absurd, the humour a bit too broad, but Ayckbourn juggles these characters and their destinies nicely. It makes for a satisfying piece.

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RolePlay: Reviews: Alan Ayckbourn: Other books by Alan Ayckbourn under review: Other books of interest under review:
  • See Index of Drama under review

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About the Author:

       British playwright Alan Ayckbourn was born in 1939. He has written more than fifty plays.

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© 2004-2009 the complete review

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