A Game of Golf by Alan Ayckbourn

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BBC Radio 7, 21 September 2008

As with many of his plays, A Game of Golf is set in the world of suburbia. The action centres around two suburban couples, Toby and Celia, Myles and Rowena.  Both women are housewives, dedicated to bringing up their children and making their homes palatable. Toby is a headteacher – not a very good one, it must be admitted – with a fondness for alcohol. Myles is the chair of the school’s governors. The two men are pathologically indifferent to their wives’ feelings, believing that material things mean something more. If you buy her a new car, a new coat, or allow her to cook dinner, then she will become happy. Once again we are in familiar Ayckbourn territory, where the women voice their frustrations but ultimately find little solace, as their spouses prefer to think about themselves. Adultery rears its ugly head, as Myles makes a pass at Celia over dinner, while Celia returns the favour later on at the golf-course. Nothing comes of it, however – chiefly due to Myles’ being completely tongue-tied. He tries to compensate for his inadequacies by playing golf. Meanwhile Toby becomes a hopeless alcoholic; a repressed homosexual, he finds himself trapped within a marriage, with a spouse he doesn’t even like very much, and children whom he likes even less.


Eventually matters come to a head on the golf-course, as the two women deliberately spoil the men’s attempts to play the game, while the men themselves end up being told off by the ladies’ captain. In the final scene, taking place four years later, things have substantially changed: Myles and Toby now live together, but Toby proves just as impossible as ever he was. Celia has returned to full-time employment, while Rowena has left the country altogether with her children to travel round India. Yet perhaps such changes are only skin-deep: Celia and Myles meet once again but remain equally unable to talk to one another. The best thing that Celia can say about Toby is that he is “sweet.” As with many of Ayckbourn’s characters, these two are reluctant to give of themselves.


The play undoubtedly has a certain attraction: Ayckbourn knows how a certain section of British society thinks and feels. But once again I found myself wishing that he could move beyond traditional gender stereotypes and focus on those who seek to forge different kinds of existence. Bernard Shaw railed against ‘middle-class morality’ in plays like Pygmalion; I felt much the same as I listened to this production. On the other hand, I do admit that I was captivated by the performances. The play has some ten or twelve roles; all of them were played by Robin Herford and Lavinia Bertram. To play multiple parts on radio requires a considerable amount of vocal versatility; it was a tribute to these two actors that they managed to differentiate successfully between the various parts. Gordon House’s 1989 production unfolded at a brisk pace. I will certainly listen to the other two parts of the trilogy.

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