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Saturday, 2 March 2013

Donkeys’ Years, by Michael Frayn, Reviewed.


First produced at London’s Globe Theatre in July 1976 (coincidentally the year in which my novel, Breaking Faith, is set, and a year of drought and heat wave in UK), this three act play is another demonstration of Frayn’s very British humour.

Although described simply as a play in three acts, this is much more like a farce, in the true British, dare I say English?, tradition. If not actually a farce, it could be taken as a parody of the style. It has all the ingredients: sexual misunderstandings, English sexual reserve, hypocrisy disguised as custom, bedrooms and, of course, the loss of clothes for the female and trousers for the male. I imagine the reader would have to become watcher in order to determine whether this is truly farce or the parody I suspect.

It is, of course, full of humour, poking fun at the stuffed shirts of academia, politicians and the servile subclass of those who serve such pretentions. There is much repetition, which, on the page can be a little wearying but on stage would work a treat, given good actors. The action is confined to a single location for each of the three acts and this serves to emphasise the claustrophobic and sheltered nature of the attitudes encapsulated by the cast. These are people who have no understanding of what most of us would call the ‘real world’. Privileged, spoilt and elevated beyond their natural abilities, they posture and pose their way through life completely unaware of the priorities faced by ordinary people outside their favoured circle.

The thread of lust, disguised as admiration until alcohol allows for honesty, permeates the play. The single female representative is the focus of all male attention, apart, of course, from that of the gay vicar (another stock character of English farce). There is little concern for the damage done to either lives or property by their barbs and actions. The level of achievement for most of the protagonists is well above their natural abilities and is an effective way of pointing out how birth and class can elevate beyond desert.

So, a social statement, but one so well submerged in humour that it may be missed by the less attentive. And the humour is brilliant. It had me laughing out loud and frequently, much to the distress of a fellow worker who shared the small room that serves as a temporary sanctuary from the busy and noisy office in which I perform my day job. The jokes come thick and fast, many derived from simple misunderstandings made clear to the audience but hidden from the characters.

I thoroughly enjoyed this play and would definitely attend a theatre for a performance.

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