The Family Way @ Octagon Theatre, Bolton

Review by Andrew Anderson | 16 Sep 2015

Originally titled All in Good Time, this 1963 play from Bolton writer Bill Naughton is best known for its 1966 big screen adaptation as The Family Way starring Hayley Mills and featuring a Paul McCartney soundtrack. It’s your typical Naughton affair (the writer behind Alfie), an equal balance between brilliant comic dialogue and authentic emotional moments.

Newlyweds Arthur (Harry Long) and Violet (Jessica Baglow) are celebrating their big day, or at least their families are; Arthur actually has his head in books, something for which his father Ezra (David Birrell) is constantly berating him. The couple seek solace in their marital bed, only for one of its legs to break (a practical joke courtesy of Arthur’s mates). Arthur’s embarrassment over the broken bed keeps him from consummating their love, and as each night passes without anything happening Arthur and Violet become increasingly concerned – will they ever be a proper married couple?

During the first act this production felt off: the stage looked cluttered, the actors constantly jostled one another for position and some of the lines felt a touch rushed. Could it be that The Family Way wasn’t up to director Elizabeth Newman’s usual standards?

Then it all became clear: the cramped, confined and claustrophobic conditions mirrored what was going on in Arthur’s head, as he tries and fails to escape from the oppressive patriarchal atmosphere of the home he is forced to share with his parents. The bed remains onstage throughout, an elephant in the room that everyone is talking about.

The tension built up in the first act is then released through laughter in the second, with the acting and direction delivering on the promise of Naughton’s script. A particular nod should go to Birrell, whose portrayal of the utterly bemused and endearingly unaware Ezra had the whole house laughing.

Designer Amanda Stoodley showed incredible attention to detail in the set, which felt like a real home rather than a mock up. The stunning opening sequence where the bridal party is first revealed also gets a rather clever reprise later on in the play – clearly the work of a director and designer on the same wavelength.

For a play about sexual and familial relations, The Family Way has aged well, and it's easy to understand why the Octagon keeps bringing it back (this is its third turn on the Bolton stage). A very funny show that can also bring a tear to your eye, The Family Way is a strong start to Newman’s era as artistic director at the Octagon.

Runs until 3 Oct