Mr A's Amazing Maze Plays: World Premiere ReviewsThis page contains reviews of the world premiere production of Alan Ayckbourn's Mr A's Amazing Maze Plays at the Stephen Joseph Theatre In The Round, Scarborough, in November 1988. It is not a complete set of reviews as the aim of the page is to offer a flavour of how the play was originally received and to offer a cross-section of opinion. All reviews on this page are the copyright of the respective publication and / or author and should not be reproduced.
Maze Plays (by Robin Thornber)
"Alan Ayckbourn's new play for children has more thought, care, refinement, technical skill, theatrical magic, gentle humour, detailed observation, and even adult entertainment value than many a so-called grown-ups' show - and at an absurd £1.50 a seat it's much less of a rip-off than anything else you'll see this Christmas.
Mr A's Amazing Maze Plays has a plural title because the show can vary on each occasion: the audience is asked to vote by waving their programmes in the air - and they do so enthusiastically - to determine which of a number of choices the characters should take, and the action follows the route that performance's audience decides.
I was delighted that on the afternoon that I was there the kids opted for the adventurous rather than the safer choice every time. We're also asked to remember exactly what it was that happened, so that we can help our heroes - with whole lunged yelling - to retrace their steps to safety in a sort of aural Kim's game.
The story concerns Suzy Newbury (Kerry Peers) and her dog, Neville - an Old English Wolfboxer played with hairy heartiness by Adam Godley. While her dad's away having adventures in a hot-air balloon, a mysterious stranger (sinisterly played by Roger Forbes) moves into the spooky big house across the road.
Constantine Accousticus steals the voices of Suzy's mum (Victoria Carling), their operatic neighbour, Mr Passerby (John Branwell), and even Neville's bark - and it's up to Suzy, the dog, and the audience to crack the secrets of the warren of corridors in his house.
There's some glaring sex-role stereotyping and I'm not sure about the psychology - almost every child longs for a father figure to come to the rescue and for some that's just not an option. But it's enthralling, brain-teasing entertainment, and not just for the advertised five to 10-year-olds.
It's staged, in Ayckbourn's own production on an ingenious set by Michael Holt, with all the immaculate élan that we have come to expect from the Stephen Joseph Theatre-in-the-round in Scarborough. The meticulously detailed playing by the whole company is a joy in itself.
The show derives its magic in ways that only live theatre can achieve and I've no doubt that it will reverberate around the country as other theatres - those that are technically competent enough - discover its charm."
(The Guardian, 5 December 1988)
Mr A's Amazing New Play (by Robin Thornber)
"Without doubt the very best Christmas show I've seen this season is a new play by Alan Ayckbourn, Mr A's Amazing Maze Plays, at the Stephen Joseph Theatre in the Round in Scarborough.
Using the same device as Intimate Exchanges* of allowing the audience to determine which way the action goes, it's designed for five to 10-year-olds but makes absorbing, brain-teasing family entertainment and it is immaculately staged (I suspect Mr A designed the intricate sound effects)."
(The Guardian, 23 December 1988)
* Intimate Exchanges does not allow the audience to determine its many paths, they are set before performance.
Dazzling Display (by Robert Beaumont)
"This was the acid test. Could Alan Ayckbourn, arguably the world's most successful playwright, weave his magic over 250 restless children aged between five and twelve.
The answer was a resounding yes. With his latest world premiere, Mr A's Amazing Maze Plays, the prolific Ayckbourn kept his young audience - who had in all probability never heard of him before - spellbound for 90 minutes.
In a dazzling display of imaginative and technical virtuosity, the Scarborough-based playwright demonstrated that this deftness of touch is not confined to the neuroses and contradictions of the adult world.
Using a similar formula to Intimate Exchanges, where the actual storyline of the play appears to be in the lap of the Gods, Mr A's Amazing Maze Plays actively involves the children in the progress of the plot.
This is essentially a moral tale of good and evil. Suzy (Kerry Peers) and her beloved dog Neville (a charming performance from Adam Godley) live a humdrum existence with Suzy's hardworking, down-to-earth mother, played by Lesley Meade, after father had disappeared into the sky in a balloon.
Their peace is shattered by the arrival, next door, of the evil Mr Accousticus (Roger Forbes), who cannot abide noise; so much so, in fact, that he has taken to stealing other people's voices. With Mr Accousticus, everything is not as it sounds.
When poor old Neville's bark disappears, along with the voice of the drunken Mr Passerby (John Branwell in splendid form), Suzy cannot take any more. So she and Neville storm the foul Mr A's imposing citadel.
On one level Mr A's Amazing Maze Plays is a charming children's story. But Ayckbourn students will notice traces of the master's pungent humour and his preoccupation with both the foibles and the darker side of human nature. Yes, Mr A (Ayckbourn, of course) is amazing!"
(Yorkshire Evening Press, 9 December 1988)
Mr A's Amazing Maze Plays (by Stephen Biscoe)
"The test of a play is in the seeing, and never more crucially than a play for children. A young audience may not be discerning in terms of artistic and intellectual content, but it knows what it likes. Or rather, it very quickly shows when it is being bored.
Judging by the rapt attention of the audience at the opening performance of this play at the Stephen Joseph Theatre, it is an undoubted success, and that has nothing to do with the author's reputation. After all, how may five and six year olds have heard of Mr Alan Ayckbourn? They are unlikely to have gone to the theatre with the thought uppermost in their minds that they were about to be entertained by one of the most successful playwrights alive today. Their reaction, therefore, was perfectly ingenuous. If Ayckbourn had bored them, he would have known it soon enough.
In fact he has demonstrated that he exercises the same power over an audience of little children as over an audience of adults. His instincts are as unerring as ever.
His Amazing Maze Plays is given the plural because the audience makes choices which presumably influence the way the plot goes. The situation is not entirely anarchical, however. The villain, a certain Mr Accousticus, who steals people's and animals' voices, is overcome in the end, whatever happens earlier on.
The Ayckbourn touch is a distinguishing element of which the audience, for once is oblivious. The play works as entertainment. That, in the end, is all that matters."
(Yorkshire Post, 1 December 1988)
Fun And Games In An Amazing Maze (by Jeannie Swales)
"Children are no respecters of reputation, and the fact that the latest production at Scarborough's Stephen Joseph Theatre in the Round bears the illustrious name of Alan Ayckbourn will cut no ice with them.
Nevertheless, yesterday's audience of youngsters gave a whole-hearted seal of approval to Mr A's Amazing Maze Plays.
It can't be easy to trap the attention of around 200 five-to-eight-year-olds for 90 minutes - but the Maze Plays proved effective.
Young Suzy (Kerry Peers) has a pet dog Neville, a dog with real character portrayed by Adam Godley, whom - and I hope he won't mind my saying so - the part fits like a glove.
The pair stumble into danger with the arrival of Roger Forbes as the sinister Mr Accousticus. Mr A hates noise, but he meets his match when he steals Neville's gruff bark.
Suzy and Neville set out to recover it - and find a treasure chest of missing sounds.
Much of the fun of the play lies in how they get there, and how they get out again - with a little help from their friends in the audience.
Also taking part are Graeme Eton and Philip Fox as the sympathetic narrators, John Branwell as the hilariously drunken Mr Passerby, and Richard Brain and Victoria Carling, as Suzy's parents.
Michael Holt's spartan set is enough to spark a young audience's imagination, and Mick Thomas's lighting convinces that a bare room is crammed with sparkling jewels.
And congratulations to Laura McLaughlin for Adam Godley's costume."
(Scarborough Evening News, 1 December 1988)
All reviews are copyright of the respective publication.