|L-R: Evelyn Hoskins and Richard Stacey in HERO'S WELCOME. Photo by Tony Bartholomew.|
Alan Ayckbourn’s Confusions was first produced in Scarborough in 1974 and had its London premiere in 1976 but we still had to wait another 40 years before it finally came to NY. On the other hand, Hero’s Welcome, Ayckbourn’s newest play (his 79th in case you’re counting) premiered in Scarborough just last year and, fortunately, we haven’t had to wait nearly as long for this one to open here. The two plays – Confusions and Hero’s Welcome - are currently playing in repertory at 59E59 Theatres on East 59th Street in midtown Manhattan. We reviewed Confusions (which we very much enjoyed) in our last post. Now here’s our bottom line on Hero’s Welcome: we loved it and it’s clearly another Ayckbourn hit.
The hero of Hero’s Welcome is Murray (Richard Stacey) a decorated soldier returning after 17 years to his old home town of Hadforth with Baba (Evelyn Hoskins), his foreign-born bride. When Murray left Hadford, nearly a generation ago, it was under something of a cloud: for some unknown reason, he abandoned his pregnant fiancé, Alice (Elizabeth Boag) on the church steps the day they were to be wed. Alice is now the town’s mayor and married to Derek (Russell Dixon), a builder, and it should come as no surprise that she’s not particularly pleased with the fact that Murray has returned.
Somewhat more surprising, perhaps, is the fact that Brad (Stephen Billington), who is now married to Kara (Charlotte Harwood), isn’t especially glad that Murray has returned either. Indeed, if it were up to Alice and Brad (and probably Derek as well), the town would give Murray a welcoming parade and then an even more enthusiastic literal sendoff to anywhere else.
But Murray and Baba have other ideas. They plan to remain in Hadforth and refurbish The Bird of Prey, the hotel/pub once owned by Murray’s family. Alice, in her capacity of mayor, considers The Bird of Prey to be an anachronistic eyesore that should be totally demolished and replaced by whatever the British equivalent might be of “urban development.”
The play is rife with plots and sub-plots. Is Murray really the hero he’s been made out to be? Why did he really leave Alice on the church steps? How long will Kara put up with Brad’s disparaging treatment and, if she ever does feel she’s had enough. What will she do about it? What, if anything, does Brad’s obsession with guns portend? Or his obsessive competitiveness with other men and his cavalier attitude toward the truth?
The cast of Hero’s Welcome consists of the same three men and two women who comprised the ensemble cast of Confusions, with the addition of Evelyn Hoskins who truly steals the show as Baba. To be sure, Richard Stacey, who played some of the lesser roles in Confusions truly comes into his own here in the starring role of Murray. Nor is this to to say that the other members of the cast aren’t just as good here as they were in Confusions for they truly are. It is just that Evelyn Hoskins is so refreshingly delightful as Baba that one tends to forget just how talented the other members of this cast really are.