Neighbourhood Watch (review)

WE’VE all met someone like Martin or had the misfortune to live next door to one (and if they’re not Martins then they’re usually - apologies - Clives, Barrys or Colins).

By The Newsroom
Thursday, 8th March 2012, 9:43 am

While they may have their hearts in the right place, their good and godly ideals can soon change the lives of friends, neighbours and colleagues, and not always for the better.

Alan Ayckbourn’s blistering new play, Neighbourhood Watch, which is running at Watford Palace Theatre this week, made disturbing and uncomfortable watching - partly because we’ve all had brushes with the Martins of the world.

We’re introduced to the neighbours of the privately-owned Bluebell estate at a housewarming party and they’re a typical bunch of middle-class, middle England conservatives (with both a small and large ‘C’) who are whipped up into forming an action group after Monty, Martin’s beloved garden gnome, cops it.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

Martin, a chirpy Christian do-gooder, has moved to the estate with his even more devout spinster sister, but they’re soon faced with the realities of life when neighbour Rod, insists that they have to barricade themselves into their new home to keep out the feral hordes from the nearby Councillor Mountjoy housing estate, which is council owned and tenanted with the great unwashed.

The “them and us” attitude soon escalates and, what started out as a worthy concept, soon gets completely out of hand.

Ayckbourn takes the theme of public disillusionment and disenfranchisement, particularly with the police, and creates a monster which, at times, won sympathy and astonishment from the first night audience (I’m sure there were some that were secretly applauding his characters’ actions when they shouldn’t have).

Screen and stage actor Matthew Cottle, was the epitome of a perfect Martin (and spawned from the same egg as TV’s other great Martin - Richard Briers’ character from the social comedy Ever Decreasing Circles), in his chain-store corduroys and checked shirt, ruddy complexion and wide-eyed innocence. One minute he’s an anonymous little man, content with his cosy, insular, life with his sister and the next displaying symptoms of megalomania and paranoia.

His neighbours are gross caricatures of reality (though I think I’ve lived next to all of them), the sex starved wife married to a pathetic bore, an ultra right-winger, a nosy divorcee, along with the wife beater and his mouse of a wife.

There were uniformly excellent performances by the small cast. Alexandra Mathie exuded quiet menace as Martin’s outwardly innocent sister, Hilda, while Terence Booth’s former security man turned subversive reminded me of Geoffrey Palmer’s Major Harry Truscott from David Nobbs’ TV comedy Fairly Secret Army. Both men go to war on their perception of suburbia’s crumbling morals and society with hilarious results.

A cautionary tale for the long-suffering middle classes.

Neighbourhood Watch runs until Saturday. For tickets call the box office 01923 225671 or go online www.watfordpalacetheatre.co.uk

ANNE COX