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Review: The disappointing A Small Family Business at the National Theatre

A_Small_Family_Business_poster_notitleSometimes revivals of old farces can work if there is enough silliness, humour and pace to entertain. Unfortunately the National Theatre's revival of A Small Family Business is not anywhere near as 'riotous' as it is described on the website.

Alan Ayckbourn's 1980s comedy about an honest man - Jack McCracken (Nigel Lindsay) - who joins the family firm only to find out that almost everyone has their hand, metaphorically, in the till never really rises much above a lame TV sitcom. In fact I was more fascinated/alarmed by the garish 80s dresses the female characters were wearing.

Even the great performances can do nothing to hide the predictable plot and stereotypical characters, some of whom were probably funny 20 or so years ago. Aside from a just a handful of laughs it doesn't really rise much above mildly amusing for its two hours and 40 minute  running time (including interval).

There is a potentially interesting story behind Jack's daughter Sammy (Alice Sykes) which is never explored, instead she is left to be merely the trigger of the plays main narrative and could quite easily be cut thereafter.

This was only the second preview and I'm sure the pace will pick up as it gets into the run but that won't be enough to liven up what is just a tired and dated play. Curiously the audience were predominantly senior citizens and I can only assume that this play was chosen as production to satisfy them and perhaps the weekend tourists.

The saving grace is that plays at the National Theatre are like buses, there is always another one following on fairly soon which might actually be heading somewhere you want to go. Will chalk this one up as a disappointment, a necessary evil in the life of a regular theatre-goer to make you appreciate the really good stuff.

A Small Family Business runs at the Olivier Theatre until 27 August


I've got a good one. Alice Sykes was in Polar Bears at the Donmar Warehouse and I sat in the row behind Mr W when I went to see it.