If it is true that “the road to Hell is paved with good intentions,” then it is more than likely that, on its way there, it must pass through The Blueberry Hill Development, an imaginary dystopia envisioned by Alan Ayckbourn as the setting for his 75th play, Neighbourhood Watch. Produced by the acclaimed Stephen Joseph Theatre of Scarborough, UK, Neighbourhood Watch is currently making its US premiere at Brits Off Broadway at 59E59 Theaters and is the fourth of Ayckbourn’s plays to do so.
Blueberry Hill Development is a British, middle class, suburban community,
overlooking he Councillor Mountjoy
Estate which is a lower class community, perhaps even a slum, at the foot of
the hill below it. The Mountjoy Estate
may be home to any number of thieves and ne’er-do-wells but the denizens of
Blueberry Hill are no bargains themselves.
Rather, Blueberry Hill appears to house a motley assortment of saints
and sinners, victims and victimizers, paranoids, sociopaths, thugs, arsonists,
and sexual deviants who, somehow, someway, have managed to hold it all together
and maintain a viable community (albeit one suffering from the typical ills of
modern suburban living such as petty crime and vandalism). Or at least the residents of Blueberry Hill
have managed to hold it all together until the arrival of Martin Massie, a
God-fearing messianic Christian (Matthew Cottle) and his adoring and equally
God-fearing Christian sister, Hilda (Alexandra Mathie).
after the Massies’ arrival at Blueberry Hill, on the day of their housewarming
party, Martin encounters a trespasser on his property, a young man who appears
to be making a getaway with goods stolen from the home of Martin’s next door
neighbors, Bradley Luther (Phil Cheadle) and his young wife Magda (Amy
Loughton). Martin manages to retrieve
the goods and returns home to co-host his housewarming party with Hilda, while
the youth escapes and continues on his way, presumably to his home in the
Councillor Mountjoy Estate.
returning home, Martin meets and greets his neighbors as they arrive for the
party: Rod Trusser, a paranoid personality seemingly obsessed with guns, police
and security (Terence Booth); Dorothy Doggett, a mousy, fearful widow and the
neighborhood gossip (Eileen Battye); Gareth Janner, a strange little man,
cuckolded by his wife and intrigued by medieval and colonial instruments of
punishment and torture devices (Richard Derrington); Amy, Gareth’s promiscuous,
adulterous and alcoholic wife (Frances Grey); and Magda, a music teacher, who
arrives alone, without her husband Luther.
(Several other residents of the development who we hear about fail to
show up and we never actually get to meet them.
They include Lee Wrigley and his sons, Dirk and Duggie who are thugs and
arsonists, as well as Cissy and Sindy, a lesbian couple, but, although we never actually meet any of
them we do get to feel as if we know them and they come to play significant
roles in the play.)
the party gets underway, talk turns to issues of community safety and security,
the desirability of building a protective fence around the development, whether
or not residents should acquire guard dogs, and the establishment of a
community neighborhood watch group. All
reasonable concerns and questions to be sure – until matters get way out of
morality play goes on to chronicle the history of the devolution of this once rather
ordinary suburban community as a consequence of its residents implementation of
these various safety and security concerns, through to its apocalyptic end. And one is left to ponder just how much of
the blame for causing that apocalypse should be placed on the paranoid, thuggish
and sociopathic members of the community and how much more justifiably might be
attributed to the supposedly well-meaning efforts of those good God-fearing
Christian folk, Martin and Hilda Massie.
is a highly talented writer and virtually all of his plays, including this one,
are well worth seeing But having said
that, this play does fall a bit short of what one has come to expect of
him. It is heavy-handed to a fault – did
he really have to name three of his principal characters Martin, Luther and
Magda to get his point across? – and it is overburdened with excessive
convoluted secondary stories of child and spousal abuse, sado-masochism and repressed
lesbianism. The play is good but it
could have been better.
not only wrote the play but directs it as well and he does a fine job of
that. The entire cast performs more than
competently but the true standouts are Alexandra Mathie as Hilda and Matthew
Cottle as Martin. They are both superb.