Welcome to the Family: World Premiere Reviews

This page features a selection of reviews from the world premiere of Alan Ayckbourn's Welcome to the Family at the Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough, during summer 2022. All reviews are copyright of the respective organisation. A full list of reviews can be found on the Further Reading page.

Ayckbourn's Spiky 88th (The Times)
In his 88th play, Alan Ayckbourn has lost none of his ability to depict an idyllic family scenario in which it transpires that sunlight-bathed happiness is spiked with delusion, discord and - on this occasion - vodka.
Here he deploys the concept of "The Capture", in which people can preserve precious memories as holograms that can be revisited; something that virtual reality developers are already exploring, although in Ayckbourn's world the fascination is human rather than technological.
The set-up feels a bit like Total Recall as if it had been reimagined by Laura Ashley. Josh Meizner's aristocratic parents are dead, but he wants Sara, his girlfriend, to meet them, so he persuades her to sign up for a "capture" experience in which they’re beamed into a garden filled with snobbery and sunshine.
The futuristic framework quickly dissolves as Josh and Sara — both in their thirties, who must dress as teenage schoolchildren to recreate this memory negotiate the prickly bonhomie of Sir Peter Meizner (Terence Booth) and Lady Vivica Meizner (Caroline Langrishe). Sara comes from a humbler background than Josh: her mother, we hear, worked as an office assistant in the town hall planning department, while her father was a dodgy policeman who strayed with a dog handler.
For all the Seventies sitcom-style absurdity of the set-up, Antony Eden as Josh and Tanya-Loretta Dee as Sara have a convincing and affecting chemistry that elevates the initial scene. This despite the fact that some of the exposition around Sara’s disadvantaged background feels clunky and awkward. Ayckbourn is too skilled and sensitive a playwright to deal in stereotypes, though, and after initial wobbles the evening becomes sharper. Steadily he subverts the fragile-as-bone-china hierarchy with precarious twists.
In a moving interview about the play with his archivist, Simon Murgatroyd, Ayckbourn, who also directs, talks about how a "smile" in an old family photo is often “a lie... that is done for the camera and unaccustomed, of course". Throughout his career he has often investigated the dangers of the idealised past here, we realise, it is Josh, who has visited this "capture" of his parents 143 times, who is truly disadvantaged.
Booth puts in a comically sinister turn as Josh's plane-flying paranoiac father, while Langrishe relishes the alcoholic cattiness masking her character's desperation. Bill Champion ably acquits himself as the dubious Uncle Lance, who has created the "capture" and without one mention of how the technology could make this work on a physical level revisits it for sexual reasons; yet another snake, it transpires, in this emotionally bankrupt Garden of Eden.

(Rachel Halliburton, The Times, 19 May 2023)

Alan Ayckbourn goes sci-fi for his 88th play (The Daily Telegraph)
by Mark Brown Alan Ayckbourn - who, admirably, continues to write and direct at the age of 84 - tends to release his plays on the world via the Stephen Joseph Theatre in Scarborough. However, he has, of late, become something of a champion of The Old Laundry Theatre in Bowness.
Last year he premiered his 86th play,
All Lies, at the little playhouse by Lake Windermere. Now he is directing his 88th full-length stage drama, Meet the Family [sic], at the same venue.
The latest piece is set in a somewhat dystopian near future in which a decidedly cavalier computer technology company has created a not-so-virtual reality game called “captures”. The technology “captures” a place and time in the past for a specified number of hours, allowing the “players” to, for example, visit dead relatives at a chosen point in their lives.
In the play we meet Josh (the loving son of deceased aristocrats) and Sara (his working- class girlfriend) as, adorned in the uniforms of Josh’s private school, they prepare to go back in time to meet his parents. All has been well, it seems, on the 43 previous occasions that Josh has visited his folks by way of “capture”, but now, with Sara in the mix, a legion of skeletons falls out of the family closet.
The sci-fi premise of the piece might make it seem like Ayckbourn is bounding with alacrity from his artistic moorings. In truth, the hi-tech futurism of the story notwithstanding, the work is a very conventional comedy of manners combined with a familiar drawing room play.
In the first act Josh and Sara become bogged down in autobiographical explication that is irritatingly implausible, given that they, apparently, know each other well enough to be on the brink of marriage. More problematic still is Ayckbourn’s apparent inability to keep a secret.
There is also a rather formulaic approach to dramatic structure, with Act One containing a number of signposts to important plot twists later in the play, not least a major one concerning Josh’s louche uncle, and “capture” technology pioneer, Lance. This is all the more frustrating because, as the colourful back stories of Josh’s parents (Sir Peter and Lady Vivica Meizner) are painted in, the drama boasts some very wry observations. There are universally strong performances, too, from the five-strong cast.
Tanya-Loretta Dee is appropriately astonished as Sara, the only regular person in the play. Bill Champion’s Lance is suitably rakish, as a self-styled “sexual rescue service” for middle-aged, married women. An intriguing, sometimes rewarding piece, then, but not classic Ayckbourn.

(Mark Brown, Daily Telegraph, 17 May 2023)

Alan Ayckbourn’s ingenious 88th play promises more than it delivers (The Guardian)
Alan Ayckbourn is a consummate constructor of entertaining (and sneakily instructive) dramas: setting up a situation, getting all its cogs turning, before dropping a spanner into the works then charting the chaos that follows. He has had plenty of practice. Welcome to the Family is his 88th play – an 89th, already written, is to have its premiere in Scarborough this autumn. What makes him a genius playwright, though, is his skill in crafting clever plots that also pack a powerful emotional punch.
As so often in Ayckbourn, comedy teeters on the brink of tragedy
Ayckbourn’s clockwork setups reflect the way his characters have allowed their lives to fall into dehumanising, mechanistic patterns. When chance, often in the form of another person, jolts their smooth running, things fall apart in ways that are, frequently, hilariously funny. The consequences of the ensuing catastrophe may be destructive or redemptive; characters have a choice. In the exposed muddle, their blundering struggles, recognisable and relatable, are often deeply affecting.
Here, there is comedy, but the emotional engagement is weak. An everyday situation – taking a partner to meet the parents – is given a twist. Josh’s parents are no longer alive. The opening act comes across as a parody of an old-fashioned drawing-room comedy, with the dialogue between Josh (Antony Eden) and Sara (Tanya-Loretta Dee) too obviously laying out the situation. We don’t get to feel how much they love one another and so cannot really fear the consequences if things go wrong (which they do).
As so often in Ayckbourn, comedy teeters on the brink of tragedy; there are hints of interesting ideas about identity and about our complicated relations with life and death. Fine acting from Eden and Dee, Caroline Langrishe and Terence Booth as the parents, with Bill Champion as Josh’s paternal uncle, as well as astute direction from Ayckbourn, do justice to an ingenious script. Ultimately, though, the plot offers a promise of something more than is realised.

(Clare Brennan, The Guardian, 21 May 2023)

All reviews are copyright of the respective publication / author.