Reviewed by The Doorsteppa Magazine
This is Yorkshire playwright Alan Ayckbourn’s 75th written play, and the City Players here deliver a performance to show there’s still plenty of life in his work.
Set in the well-to-do suburb ‘Bluebell Hill’ near a rough housing estate, Neighbourhood Watch tells the story of eight upstanding, respectable residents living in fear of the country’s threatening youth culture. Following a misunderstanding with a trespassing local boy, Martin Massie (played by Matthew Joynes) launches into a relentless marshaling of the neighbours that descends into an increasingly aggressive and tyrannical watchdog group.
Martin and his sister Hilda (Amanda Whelan, brilliantly playing a much older woman) have recently moved to Bluebell Hill. They are middle-aged Christians, both unmarried, and respectable. Many homeowners advise them to erect fences (as they have done) to keep out the yobs, but the local community decides that more drastic action is required, especially in the absence of the police, who seem either unable or unwilling to help. So a Neighbourhood Watch scheme is established.
As pressure and paranoia begin to mount, however, the protect-and-serve mentality soon devolves into an aggressive guerilla campaign against the youth of the estate. Joynes delivers a highly convincing performance of Massie’s steady disintegration – his final moments are a far cry from the meek Christian figure he is displayed as at the play’s beginning.
Joynes and Whelan are supported by an equally talented cast throughout. Alex Dornan plays the sultry neighbour Amy, who despite cheating on her husband with another neighbour, at the start of the play, slowly corrupts Massie, with flirtatious comments and gestures so well timed that they seem completely natural.
There is a delightfully energetic performance from Chris Matthews as the abusive husband Luther, Naomi Shaw as his wife portrays an innocence that plays off him perfectly. Mick Davison is hilarious. His constant notes and ideas for tools of punishment produced laughs as loud as I’d ever heard at The Corner Playhouse. Colleen Groves and John Donnelly as the all-seeing residents contribute solid comedy backing to what was a real ensemble piece.
Despite what might seem a bleak backdrop to the play, there are hilarious moments of comedy throughout. The exchange between Rod after a child is caught trespassing on Massie’s property is ludicrous and hysterical, thanks to the cast’s sense of comic timing. Rod is insistent that the child’s case contains a ‘modified’ rifle, or is rigged to detonate grenades if opened!
That’s the magic of Ayckbourn’s writing. He weaves together a plot that, if mishandled, would come off unconvincing and clumsy, and in this case the City Players delivered a performance I’m sure he would have been proud of.
Shining a light on middle-class suburban folk - while we laugh at their excesses we nonetheless recognise their natures and reasons in a personal way. Brilliantly written and expertly staged, Neighbourhood Watch was both a highly entertaining comedy and a rather gruesome demonstration of what makes us all worth laughing at!
"Neighbourhood Watch". The Doorsteppa, March 2015. Print.