nytheatre.com review by David Gordon
December 4, 2011
It’s no spoiler to reveal that Martin, the protagonist of Alan Ayckbourn’s uneven-but-still-entertaining 75th play Neighbourhood Watch, dies. You find this out in the first line, when Martin’s sister Hilda thanks a small, unseen crowd for attending the opening of a park dedicated to Martin’s memory. Months earlier, Martin, played with heartbreaking genialness by Matthew Cottle, decided to take the law into his own hands and form a Neighborhood Watch organization to keep the Bluebell Hill Development from falling victim to local hoodlums from a neighboring community.
In the wake of the unrest across the world, where the effectiveness of police is continuously called into question, this play (which premiered in September at the Stephen Joseph Theatre in Yorkshire) seems ultra timely. Yet Ayckbourn, who also directed, bogs himself down in plot, as we not only get to know Martin and Hilda (the wonderfully no-nonsense Alexandra Mathie), but the underpinnings of the motley assortment of neighbors (Eileen Battye, Terence Booth, Phil Cheadle, Richard Derrington, Frances Grey and Amy Loughton, all expertly quirky).
That Martin’s rise and fall parallels that of another famous figure who died for other people’s sins is a topic I wish Ayckbourn would have explored a little less under-the-cuff. Yet Neighbourhood Watch is so expertly acted that the sins of the playwright are easy to forgive.