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A Small Family Business - Introduction

Welcome to this introduction to A Small Family Business by Alan Ayckbourn. It
has been directed by Christopher Luscombe.

The Vocaleyes audio-described performance at Watford Palace Theatre will be
given on Saturday the 13th of October. There will be a touch tour at 1.30pm the
introductory notes will start at 2.45 and the performance itself at 3pm

The production lasts for two hours and thirty minutes with a fifteen minute

There now follows information about the production which has been split into 3
sections: Section One describes the set; Section Two, the characters and their
costumes; and Section Three gives a list of production credits.

You may like to note that this information was written at the beginning of the
production’s life and there are sometimes artistic changes to the show during its
run. We therefore repeat this introduction live, fifteen minutes before the start of
the   performance,    accommodating any changes,          and     adding   additional
information about settings, costumes or characters.

The live audio description will be given for Vocaleyes by Willie Elliot and Lonny

Section 1 – The Set

A Small Family Business first opened at the National’s Olivier Theatre in June
1987, only a few days before Margaret Thatcher found herself back in Downing
Street with a substantial majority. Commissioned by Sir Peter Hall, Alan
Ayckbourn wrote the play – a moral fable - about a working-class family who
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have made good, through the success of their furniture business. The play found
favour with the National Theatre’s powers-that-be and Ayckbourn set about
meeting the challenges of the Olivier Theatre’s large stage space.

‘I knew the Olivier of old,’ he wrote. ‘Not the friendliest of spaces for those
purveyors of modern low-key naturalistic drama….With a Small Family Business,
I found the perfect excuse to put on stage something that had always been till
then beyond my wildest budget, namely a two-storey house complete with
working kitchen and bathroom. The biggest dolls’ house in the world.’
Twenty years on, in today’s consumer society, the themes of the play still
resonate and Ackybourn’s ambitious dolls’ house set has been created anew
on the stage at Watford Palace.

The action takes place in the present over a period of one week in a two storey
Family house. This house represents the different houses of various people.
The action centres primarily around the home of Jack and Poppy McCracken, but
sometimes action will be played out by one Family in the downstairs area and
another in the upstairs area, or in different rooms, so the single house location
can represent and contain several individual Family homes at once.

As we take our seats we are presented with a cross-section of a modern house
with four rooms open to us, two up and two down, with a hallway and stairs in
between. The House is furnished in a comfortable, modern style, showcasing
furniture from the Family’s business ‘Ayres and Graces’. The mood is light, airy
and functional with a neutral décor in creams and pastel tones.

Ours is a rear view, as if the back wall of the house has fallen away. Facing us
are the two main ground floor rooms, a large sitting room on the left and a large
kitchen on the right. Between these rooms towards the rear, is a wide entrance
hall. Most of the interior walls have been taken away, enabling us to see clearly
into all of the rooms. The boundary between the two front rooms is marked by a
line of white skirting board. The side walls, at either end of the stage, are
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delineated by white wooden frames covered in black mesh. They protrude
beyond the front of the stage, the top edges sloping down towards the front and
finishing just below the audience boxes at either side of the Theatre. The ceiling
of the front two rooms is indicated by two broad white slats, protruding
horizontally over the space from the first floor.

The kitchen has a side door to the rear of the right hand wall, and a solid rear
wall with fitted units and a hatch that opens onto a dining room beyond. There is
a central island in the middle of the room with a u-shaped, solid wooden counter
top. At the far end of this counter is a gas hob. The u-shaped end of the counter,
which is nearest to us, is used as a breakfast bar and has three white, wooden
topped stools around it. Under the hob, unseen by us, is an oven. Along the right
hand wall runs a long white counter with a wooden top and a butler sink. The
sink has working taps and the water can be turned on and off. The floor is tiled in
brown and grey squares and the back wall is painted ice cream pink.

A rear doorway into the kitchen, from the entrance hall at the back, is delineated
by a white, arched doorframe, which faces the staircase in the hall. A white
painted picture rail and waist high dado rail extend left beyond the arched kitchen
doorframe, marking out part of the sitting room’s missing rear wall. This white
frame also delineates the sitting room doorframe which has an actual door in it,
and which opens into the sitting room from the entrance hall at the back. The
doorframes have square light switches protruding from them as if they were
attached to the invisible walls.

The sitting room, on the left, has two levels, a large front space with wood
laminate flooring and then a step up to a back level, which is narrower and
carpeted in cream.

The lower level has a daybed by the wall on the left, upholstered in a brown and
cream square patterned fabric and there’s a small table and lamp beside it. To
the right of the room there is an L-shaped corner sofa, with a wicker base and
moss green cushions, a matching, square seat a little way in front of it, and a
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modern-looking, round, glass topped, coffee table between them. Two round,
globe shaped lamps hang down from the short section of protruding ceiling

The upper level at the back has an elegant cream painted wooden armchair with
brown velvet upholstery on the left, with a standard lamp behind the chair. The
pale green rear wall contains a pair of white double doors, with glass window
panes, leading to a second comfortable family room beyond with a sofa and
chairs in it.

The entrance hall is the hub of the ground floor and all the rooms open off it. It’s
painted a creamy colour above the waist high dado rail and warm nutmeg colour
below and has the white painted main front door to the house in the rear wall. To
the right of the front door is a modern looking painting lit from above, depicting
brown and cream circles. The staircase runs up away from us along the right
hand wall, and underneath the stairs, almost hidden from us, are a coat rack and
a door leading into the dining room. Part of the entrance hall adjoins the rear
kitchen and sitting room walls, which are missing, and often characters stop to
admire themselves in an imaginary mirror above the hall table. The table has a
slim, silver cordless phone unit on it.

The stairs have a white painted banister rail and lead to a hallway on the first
floor which is directly above the entrance hall below. It is painted a nutmeg
colour and has a round porthole window in the rear wall. The upstairs hall has
four doors leading off it, two on either side. The rear two doors, which are slightly
recessed, open into unseen bedrooms on either side of the hall. The front two
doors open directly into a bedroom on the left and a bathroom on the right. These
two rooms are set further back than the sitting room and kitchen on the ground
floor below. The bathroom on the right is directly above the unseen Dining room,
and the bedroom on the left, directly above the second Family room, which we
glimpse beyond the sitting room.
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A white painted dado rail runs along, near to us, at the front of these two open
upper rooms, at waist height, delineating the missing wall. In the bedroom on the
left, this dado rail extends along the missing right hand wall which has a lady’s
white painted dressing table and mirror against it. The dressing table has a chair
in front of it and the oval mirror has no glass. The left hand wall opposite the
dressing table is solid and painted in lavender, which matches the lavender bed
linen. The double bed protrudes from the rear wall into the room with fitted
cupboards above it and fitted wardrobes in pale wood to either side. There is a
chandelier hanging down from the ceiling, made of pearly white shell, which
tastefully compliments the décor.

The bathroom across the hall mirrors the layout of the bedroom, with the dado
rail running around the room. The sink stands against the rail near the door and
there is another imaginary mirror above it. The missing front wall has a wooden
towel rail, a bidet and then the toilet against it. The working toilet has its back to
us with a brass pipe leading up to the cistern which has a chain dangling down.
Against the rear wall, which is painted duck egg blue, is a big, white, free-
standing, claw-footed bath. The bath has a shower curtain, hanging from a brass
rail that pulls all the way around the front of it, cutting it off from view. Beside the
bath, against the right hand wall, stands a narrow wooden shelving unit with
bathroom accessories on it. There is a globe ceiling lamp and a couple of prints
on the walls depicting silver leaves on a lavender background.

Section two; Characters and costumes
There are seventeen characters played by thirteen actors. One actor plays five
characters who are all brothers.

Ken Ayres is the patriarch of the family and head of the family business. Played
by Ian Lindsay, Ken is seventy-nine years old. Despite stooping slightly, he is still
tall and heavy set. He stands unsteadily, supported by a walking stick, although,
when in mid flow, he can march in a military fashion. He is balding with white hair
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round the sides and back of his head. He moves from being fully attentive,
picking up on every joke, his shoulders shaking as he laughs, to bewilderment;
his shoulders suddenly droop and his deep set blue eyes look around, lost, as he
loses the thread of a conversation. When we first meet him he is dressed smartly
in a black three-piece suit with a tie at the collar of his white shirt. Later, at home,
he slips on a woollen jumper.

Yvonne Doggett is Ken’s personal assistant. Yvonne is fifty, with a well-worn
face and kind dark eyes. Her fair hair is cut into a bob, curling round the collar of
her white blouse. She is slim and elegant, stepping briskly in smart beige slacks,
efficiently taking care of Ken’s needs. Her arched eyebrows are pencil thin and
shaded with silver eye shadow. Her thin mouth is painted a subtle red. Later she
wears an elegant black dress with a black woollen cardigan, worn open.
Diamonds sparkle on her brooch and on her necklace and rings. Cherith Mellor
plays Yvonne.

Jack McCracken, Ken’s son in law, is a businessman in his fifties. Dressed for
the job he wears a grey two-piece suit with a white shirt and grey tie. His grey
hair is cut short and neat, contrasting with his dark eyebrows, that frame deep
set, bright blue eyes. His fleshy face has the careworn look of a man with a lot of
responsibility; the skin beneath his eyes is beginning to sag. His plump nose is
red above his thin-lipped mouth. Jack is played by Michael Garner.

Barbara Wilshire plays Poppy, Jack’s wife. She is a conservatively dressed, slim,
fifty year old. She wears a variety of skirts and open necked blouses, with a gold
locket on a delicate chain around her neck. As the play progresses her clothes
become less conservative as she makes the effort to look younger. Later she
wears a black silk pleated skirt. The scalloped hem swishes around her knees.
Her collar length blonde bobbed hair is clipped back from her forehead, showing
more of her fair complexioned, attractive face, with almond shaped eyes and
button nose.
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Jack and Poppy have two daughters Samantha, known as Sammy, and Tina.
Zoë Thorne plays Sammy, a pretty, sixteen year-old and the black sheep of the
family. She is short and slopes around in black boots and tight trousers, a
studded belt at the waist, wearing dark eye make up and black lipstick. Her
blonde hair, in a middle parting, hangs loose around her shoulders. She sits
apart from others, a sad look in her eyes, wearing a grey hoodie over her grey t-
shirt. Later, she grudgingly agrees to wear a blue knee-length dress with a black
floral print.

Sammy’s older sister Tina, played by Claire Parrish, is twenty-three years old.
She is tall and slim with straight hair, dyed auburn, which flows over her
shoulders. She dresses fashionably in a white scoop necked blouse and skintight
jeans. Her legs are made to look longer and thinner by her tight, knee length,
high-heeled boots.

Tina is married to Roy, who is twenty five. He is heavy set, tall and sallow
skinned with his jet-black hair cut short. His brown eyes have heavy black brows
and his square jaw is shaded with stubble. Roy tends to be a step behind
everyone else, his face brightening as he realises the point of a joke, or a
conversation, a little too late. His eyes narrow into slits as he breaks into a toothy
smile. When we first meet him he is dressed in a smart blue cotton shirt and
jeans. Later he dons a baseball cap, with a blue zip up blouson jacket. Nathan
Amzi plays Roy.

Desmond Ayres is Ken’s forty-two year old son. He is a big man with broad,
tense shoulders. His short brown hair is swept into a side parting over his high
forehead. His blue eyes are small in his big face and his thin lips press tightly
together in frustration. He dresses casually wearing the open collar of his beige
shirt over the collar of his navy blue blazer. Desmond Ayres is played by Clive
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Desmond’s wife is Harriet. She is forty-three, with wild auburn hair that hangs
over her shoulders. She has sharp features and is highly strung, with the
constant manic look of a woman about to explode. Her piercing blue eyes fix
others with a disturbing stare as her shoulders tense and she nervously claws at
her own arms. She is rather frumpy, wearing an open, knee-length woollen grey
cardigan over a purple open necked top. Her rust coloured skirt falls to the top of
her heavy leather slip on shoes. Deborah Maclaren plays Harriet.

Cliff McCracken has come into the business indirectly, through Jack, who is his
brother. Cliff is forty years old and is played by Jonty Stephens. He is tall and
gangly with an oval face and bald head. What’s left of his hair, around the sides
and back, is brown. Cliff has a hangdog expression giving his blue eyes a forlorn,
childlike quality. He stands, hands hanging by his side, unflummoxed by
situations that would disturb others, calmly accepting his lot in life. When we first
meet him he is dressed smartly in a suit with a collar and tie, but later, in casual
clothes, he wears a garish mix, the yellow collar of a polo shirt, peeking over his
short sleeved pullover, patterned with large beige and orange diamonds. A gold
watch glitters at his wrist and he sets off his blue denims with white trainers.

Cliff’s wife, Anita, is thirty-six. She is slim and glamorous, dressing in expensive
fashionable clothes. Her party dress, when we first meet her, is white taffeta,
sparkling with little gems, with a matching bolero jacket. She swings her hips as
she walks, fully confident of her relationship with Cliff, as well as her own
sexuality. Her dark brown hair is cut close to the nape of her slender neck and
swept over her forehead in a side parting. Her make up is painted on heavily -
her eyes are darkly mascarered, red blusher highlights her cheek bones and
matching lipstick gives her a full pout. Later she wears a silk purple blouse with
short, puffed sleeves and a grey, knee length pencil skirt with a wide silver belt.
Finally she dons a black halter neck cocktail dress that sparkles in the light. Anita
is played by Josie Walker.
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Outside of the family, Anita has several ‘diversions’ in the shape of the Rivetti
Brothers. All played by Eliot Giuralarocca. They are all tall and slim with black
hair in varying degrees of baldness.
Uberto has long shoulder length hair tied back in a ponytail. He dresses smartly
in a suit with a white shirt collar peeping over the jacket.

Giorgio Also has long hair, but it hangs loose over his shoulders and he wears
ripped jeans and a beige shirt.

The third brother, Orlando, is dressed in a beige shirt, with the top buttons open,
showing the neckline of a red t-shirt underneath and a gold chain round his neck.
His trousers are blue cotton slacks. His hair is cut short and swept back over his
head. He has a thick wide moustache

Caught, literally with his trousers down, brother four, Vicenza, is clean-shaven.
His hair is greased back over his head. He wears a leather-studded dog collar
round his neck and wire rimmed spectacles. He slips on a navy blue silk dressing
gown beneath which his fishnet stockinged legs are revealed.

Finally there is Lotario, dressed smartly in a grey suit with a white shirt and red

The final character, Benedict Hough (Huff) is a tall, thin, man in his late forties.
His neatly cut fair hair is swept into a side parting. He fawns, creepily, smiling
tight-lipped, wearing a practical, warm grey anorak over a grey shirt and
matching tie. His cotton slacks, too, are grey. His eyes are bright blue, with a glint
of avarice behind the apparent warmth of their steady gaze. His clean-shaven
face has a ruddy complexion, making him appear freshly scrubbed. Benedict
Hough is played by David Holt
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Section 3. Cast and production credits
Ken Ayres                    Ian Lindsay
Yvonne                      Cherith Mellor
Jack McCracken is played by Michael Garner
Poppy, his wife, by         Barbara Wilshire
Their daughters :
Samantha                    Zoë Thorne
Tina                        Claire Parrish
Tina’s husband Roy          Nathan Amzi
Desmond Ayres                Clive Hayward
Desmond’s wife Harriet      Deborah McClaren
Cliff McCracken             Jonty Stephens
Cliff’s wife Anita          Josie Walker

Benedict Hough              David Holt
Lotario Rivetti and his brothers             Eliot Guiralarocca.

The printed programme credits the other Rivetti brothers, using anagrams of the
actor’s name.

Uberto                Carlo Agouti El Rica
Orlando               Craig Liota-Lorceau
Vicenzo               Eric Rigatua La Loco
Giorgio               Roger A Colliatucia

The production was designed by Janet Bird
The lighting designer was Tim Maskell
And the Director      Tim Luscombe

This is the end of the introduction to A Small Family Business at The Watford
Palace Theatre.
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You can receive a copy of the free Vocaleyes Newsletter with full details on all
our work by calling us on 020 7375 1043 or by following the links on the
Vocaleyes accessible website. The Newsletter is available in print, Braille, on
tape or via e-mail.

Vocaleyes is a charity funded by Arts Council England.

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