A Chorus of Disapproval, Sir Alan Ayckbourn’s twentieth play—and one of his most successful— premiered at the Stephen Joseph Theater in the Round in Scarborough, England, in May, 1984. Following the sell-out season in Scarborough, the play opened in a large-scale production at the National Theater in London in August, 1985. The success of the play earned Ayckbourn three major British theater awards including the London Evening Standard Award, the Olivier Award, and the Drama Award.
Ayckbourn’s first great success, Relatively Speaking, was a farce modeled on Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest; A Chorus of Disapproval is not modeled on, but rather is based around, another play: John Gay’s The Beggar’s Opera, which in the play is to be performed by a local dramatic society. The play describes the ups and downs of provincial life: as the rehearsals for The Beggar’s Opera advance, real life increasingly imitates art. As well as being a modern version of the classic ‘‘play within a play,’’ A Chorus of Disapproval also explores the attraction of the theater for ordinary people, whose apparently unremarkable lives are revealed to be unexpectedly eventful.
Ayckbourn’s contribution to the theater is impressive. Although his comedies were initially considered unfashionable, they have always been wellreceived by critics and audiences alike, all of whom have recognized Ayckbourn’s technical prowess and his unusual ability to balance comedy and pathos. A Chorus of Disapproval, which explores ordinary people’s aspirations and disappointments, confirmed that reputation. Ayckbourn was knighted in 1987 in recognition of the extraordinary quality of his writing and his contribution to the British theatre.
Act I Summary
The structure of A Chorus of Disapproval exemplifies Ayckbourn’s modernity: the first scene, for instance, is chronologically the last. The play begins with the tail-end of PALOS’s performance of The Beggar’s Opera. From there, the play unfolds like a cinematic flashback. The flashback structure maintains tension throughout the lighthearted ensemble piece: the audience, certain in the knowledge that the opera will be performed successfully, nonetheless fears that calamity will unfold, for after the curtain falls, Guy is abandoned by his fellow cast members.
In the second scene of Act I, Guy auditions by giving a fumbling rendition of the only song he knows, ‘‘All Through the Night.’’ He is shown up by the director, Dafydd, who interrupts him to sing the song in Welsh. Although Guy’s singing is obviously not up to standard, Dafydd immediately accepts him, partly because he is short one actor and partly because he is a warm, generous man.
During the audition, other cast members enter. A quick scene and lighting change follows, and the cast adjourns to a local pub named The Fleece (the name of the tavern suggests that the customers will be ‘‘fleeced’’ or conned out of their money). This pub parallels Peachum’s tavern in The Beggar’s Opera: indeed, the proprietor’s daughter, Bridget, acts rather like Gay’s Lucy, fighting with customers and stealing lovers....
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Act II Summary
The second act opens with a tense conversation between Guy and Hannah, conducted in a local cafe. Guy appears to have undergone something of a transformation in the last few months. He is no longer a hang-dog weakling but rather a local Lothario. He has been carrying on two affairs— one with Hannah, who is in love with him, and another with Fay, who is still trying to involve him in the BLM land scam. Hannah tries to badger Guy into choosing between her and Fay.
Suddenly, Fay appears. The cat-fight between the two women comically imitates a similar conflict between Polly and Lucy in The Beggar’s Opera. Hannah departs in fury. Fay points out that it was she who handed Guy the role of Filch (another role upgrade), then hints threateningly that he must ‘‘come up with the goods’’ in return for the favor.
In the next scene, the conflict between Hannah and Fay is repeated in the struggles between Bridget, as Jenny Diver, and Linda, both of whom fight over Crispin, as Macheath. After Hannah and Linda depart the stage, Guy tries to inform Jarvis that people are scheming to profit from his land, but Jarvis is too busy telling Guy an old story about his grandfather to pay much attention.
Dafydd re-enters. He is oblivious to Guy’s affair with Hannah, and, to make matters worse, confides in Guy that he is having trouble in his marriage. He complains that Hannah is ‘‘a bloody deep-freeze of...
(The entire section is 548 words.)