By Tony Flood

This slick production of Alan Ayckbourn’s Table Manners focuses on how many things can go wrong when a family gets together, providing comedy amongst the conflict.

Annie (Lucy Jane Quinlan), who is the sole carer for her invalid mother, asks her elder brother Reg (Pete Ashmore) and his wife Sarah (Joanna Simpkins) to look after the old lady while she takes a much-needed break.

It emerges that she is neglected by the love of her life, dim-witted animal-loving vet Tom (Toby Manley), and has arranged to spend an illicit weekend with her sister Ruth’s husband Norman.

She is ridiculed for planning to go to East Grinstead with Norman, superbly played by Ross Waiton, and instead spends the weekend trying to cater for five disruptive guests with disastrous results.

The clash of these opinionated personalities is accentuated by their annoyance at the lack of food the naive Annie offers them, and tension quickly increases.

Waiton, who appeared in Skyfall and on the television series Vera and Eastenders, fully exploits Norman’s faults as an egotistical womaniser whose fed-up wife Ruth (Katy Dean) is convulsed with laughter when she learns of his relationship with the dowdy Annie.

The constant bickering leads to dysfunctional chaos as the prudish and bossy Sarah tries to take charge and even orders everyone to repeatedly change their places around the dinner table.

Director Ben Roddy, aided by the dining room setting and costume design of Geoff Gilder, gets the pace just right and, for the most part, does justice to Ayckbourn’s witty script which contains many put-downs in the form of sharp one-liners.

Table Manners, part of The Norman Conquests trilogy, is set in the 1970s and includes topical subjects of that time such as women being expected to have children.

My only criticism is that the story does not seem to go anywhere and finishes on an anti-climax.

* Table Manners is one of three plays brought to The Devonshire Park Theatre by Phil & Ben Productions, the others being Graham Greene’s Travels With My Aunt (Thursday 4th July to Saturday 13th July) and Dangerous Obsession by N.J. Crisp (Thursday 18th July to Saturday 27th July). Anyone booking all three at the same time via the box office can receive a 15 per cent discount.

Pictures by Phil Stewart.