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Traditionally, we read a play in December. Unfortunately, the chosen piece – Joe Orton’s final work, What the Butler Saw – was considered too strong meat for our 21st century susceptibilities, and so it was abandoned. As a result, the substitute – Family Circles by Alan Ayckbourn – had not been read by anyone in advance, so we were all able to read it without any preconceived ideas.
The original play is early Ayckbourn, and he was clearly dissatisfied with it because it went through several incarnations before arriving at the final version, eight years after its original production. In the meantime, Ayckbourn wrote and directed some of his best plays, including The Norman Conquests, which we read last year. There are elements of his later work in Family Circles and it is interesting to see how it fits into his progression as a playwright.
Family Circles is set in the living room of a middle-aged couple, whose three daughters and their men are arriving for the weekend to celebrate the parents’ wedding anniversary. The premise of the play is laid down by Edward, the father, within the opening minute: ‘…Whoever you decide on to share your life with invariably turns out to be the worst possible choice you could have made…’. We are then introduced to his girls and their partners, as the usual Ayckbourn family arguments and intrigues start to unfold. The second scene shows us the family becoming further embroiled, but a change has taken place: each of the daughters is now with one of the other men and the new relationships are explored as everyone gets ready to go out for a celebratory dinner. After the interval, the inevitable final change has taken place. Each daughter has now been the partner of each of the men, and the audience is forced to the conclusion that none of the liaisons works any better than the others. And their parents are clearly unsuitably hitched, or why would the daughters suspect that they are trying to kill each other? In the final scene, everyone appears in the various roles they played in the previous three scenes as the couples attempt to leave the scene of marital carnage and return to their normal lives.
We enjoyed reading Family Circles, and we enjoyed the Christmas goodies provided by our much-cherished hostess Anne, and the mulled wine brought along by Geraldine – altogether a suitable end to our twentieth anniversary year.
The first meeting of 2014 will be held on January 16, when we shall be discussing The Secret River by Kate Grenville.
Withiel Book Circle – reading list
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