It's Complicated: Alan Ayckbourn's Bedroom Farce

Bedroom Farce Playwright and Director

As long as human beings have had relationships, they have had a need to define them with the phrase “it’s complicated” — an expression that has taken on new life in the 21st century. The term is now everywhere, from a Facebook status to a Nancy Meyers movie title. But is the modern ubiquity of “it’s complicated” a sign that our relationships have become more messy – or have we just embraced the language to describe what was always there? English playwright Alan Ayckbourn, known as “the Molière of the Middle Class,” has made a decades-long career out of examining the complex conflicts at the heart of relationships, and lays out the highs and lows of married life in his acclaimed early comedy Bedroom Farce.

Bedroom Farce circles around the lives of four intertwining couples in different stages of a relationship: Delia and Ernest, an older couple, are fully comfortable in their nighttime routine; Malcolm and Kate, a fresh young couple, play clever pranks on each other; Jan and Nick settle for co-existing. But drama ensues when Ayckbourn’s final couple, Susannah and Trevor, split up and the chaos they create threatens all of the other relationships in the play. For the revival at the Huntington, this symphony of dysfunctional relationships will be orchestrated by director Maria Aitken, a longtime Huntington collaborator who in a fitting twist played Susannah in the London premiere of the play at the National Theatre.

Written in 1975, Ayckbourn created Bedroom Farce in response to superficial sex farces that emphasized who is in bed with whom at the expense of the complications and tribulations of how they got there. Ayckbourn creates a world with real consequences, even though the circumstances are out of the ordinary. “What I tried to do was avoid the obvious,” says Ayckbourn, “and write a play about the British in bed without emphasizing anything much in the way of sex. Actually, of course, it’s full of sex, but sex of a different sort. It covers a whole wide range of sexual troubles, sexual problems.”

Our modern culture is overrun by think pieces on the “Secrets of Successful, Long-Lasting Relationships”... Ayckbourn’s play takes on the deeper themes at the heart of relationships: what do we expect? What do we get?

Ayckbourn’s sideways perspective into the married milieu offers a fresh and deeply funny lens to those who have been in relationships. Aykbourn can “believably effuse charms sure to infect a willing audience with giggles, guffaws, and the occasional insight that, yes, that’s what it’s like,” wrote David DeWitt of The New York Times in his review of the play.

For Ayckbourn, an audience’s laughter is more than pleasure; it’s a sign that his message is landing: “It’s more important to me to make people laugh, provided they come. If a house is full of people, you know you’re doing something right.” While veiled in comedy, Bedroom Farce is an intricate exploration that asks the questions: How do we treat our loved ones? How do we treat ourselves? What do we deserve in a partner?

Our modern culture is overrun by think pieces on the “Secrets of Successful, Long-Lasting Relationships” or “Ten Ways to Meet the Guy (or Girl) of your Dreams.” Ayckbourn’s play takes on the deeper themes at the heart of relationships: what do we expect? What do we get? He takes notions of an ideal relationship, and rearranges them through three bedrooms — the most intimate space for couples. For Ayckbourn, the bedroom is more than an intimate and idyllic haven; it is a place where convention and morality fall away, and we see the depth of our truer selves. “I feel society has to live by certain guidelines, and in the end, I suppose I believe in respect for other people,” explains Ayckbourn on his writing. “But I’m in an awful position as a writer, because I love it when things break up.”

– Phaedra Scott

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