Life in the suburbs


Intimate Exchanges


Written by Alan Ayckbourn

Directed by Ann Garner

Presented by Next Stage Theatre Company (

In association with Love Arm'd Productions (

Midtown International Theatre Festival (

Equity showcase (through August 2, 2008)

Review by David Mackler


There’s nothing terribly outstanding about any of the characters in an Alan Ayckbourn play.  They’re not heroic in the classic sense, and their tragedies won’t affect the future of their country.  But Ayckbourn brings these ordinary folks to the front and center, showing off their likeable qualities and their pettiness, and (bless him) showing their recognizable humanness as comic.  Not to them, of course, but to the audience.  Ayckbourn is often compared to Neil Simon, but that misstates the case – with Simon, the jokes are funny.  With Ayckbourn the characters are funny.


In its full form, Intimate Exchanges is 8 plays with 10 characters, played by two actors.  The plays are interconnected, and have alternate endings.  At the MITF, Next Stage presented what they call “Scenes from,” and it’s enough to give a full sense and flavor, but stingy enough to leave you wondering what’s going on in other rooms.  Because the way Ayckbourn structures his plays, the most mundane event or throwaway business will add a layer of meaning later on.  So when Celia (Kay Francksen) has a conversation with Lionel (Andrew Ellison) who’s working in her garden, and sex talk gets mixed in with redecorating the flower beds, attention must be paid to the conversation as well as the interaction between them.  And when he talks about a date with Sylvie, it’s not just to pass the time.


Yet at the same time, it’s all real.  Celia’s got something on her mind here, just as she does in the second act when she’s on a rest/vacation with her husband Toby (Ellison).  And the situations are real as well – the vacation at what Toby calls a “geriatric Valhalla” is where he is to rest because of having fallen.  And the interaction between the characters is real also, a tribute to Francksen and Ellison, and the easy flow that director Ann Garner works in the confines of the Mainstage, where the settings are simple, and the lighting design (by Kris Nuttall) unobtrusive.  But it’s also funny.  Nobody can quite keep a secret, and everything’s interconnected – by the end it’s come out that Toby, a headmaster, had helped Sylvie (Francksen) go to school.  Lionel is now a writer, and he and Sylvie have gotten married.  And if you paid attention in school, you’ll have noticed that one batch of off-stage children is named after Dickens characters, and another after the Bronte family.


Of course, it isn’t real at all.  And “Scenes from” is just a taste of Intimate Exchanges.  That said, Ayckbourn is not to everyone’s taste.  But while sushi isn’t to everyone’s taste either, once you’re into it there’s always room for more.


Box Score:


Writing: 2

Directing: 2

Acting: 2

Sets: 1

Costumes: 1

Lighting/Sound: 1


Copyright 2008 by David Mackler


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