Eileen Caiger Gray reviews Pam Ayres – Up in the Attic at Doncaster Cast (Oct 18th 2019)
Pam Ayres MBE was thrilled to stand before a full house filled with laughter. In turn, the full house was thrilled by every minute of her warm, sparkling entertainment.
There’s a magical timelessness about Pam Ayre’s work and her responsive manner of delivery that’s as fresh and vibrant, as warm and genuine, as deceptively simple and silly as it’s always been. The audience love it, and they love, too, this modest, honest wordsmith with her calm, gentle delivery, radiant smile and soothing, captivating Cotswold burr-rr.
It’s nigh on 45 years now since Opportunity first knocked for young Pam, and her heartfelt cry of, “Oh, I wish I’d looked after me teeth!” went pre-digitally viral. Her success, she says, came from daring to be different. The teeth still feature today (of course!) alongside poems and rhymes, old and new, odd jokes, fascinating reminiscences and anecdotes autobiographical, all of which feature somewhere in the books piled on the table beside her quietly promoting themselves. The same confident fluency that makes her a top panelist on Radio 4’s Just A Minute moves her neatly from item to item, whether in an originally intended order or via nimble adlib, her well-honed pauses, expressive mime, measured pace and flow serving to enhance the comic effect.
Via Benny Hill’s fish fingers, Kuwaiti oil wells, foot-smashed spectacles, an ‘orse who goes into a bar, an electrician’s amputated ear, Simon Mayo, Springwatch and council houses with outdoor lavs and copiously filled indoor buckets and pots, we’re taken on a mighty, multi-stop journey. After never-ending nightmare circuits round Cirencester’s car park and a despairing look at the clutter in attics, we head via hassles of airport security checks, flight socks and sticky toilet floors to the horrors of frocks that come alive with static and wetsuits that come alive with wee. We hear how wise Fred the ‘orse makes his will before tackling the Grand National, we examine a football-biting incident from the dog’s point of view and, like the Aussies before us, we learn how a bewildered God created the platypus from his leftover stock. Tales weave, though not chronologically, through childhood, parenthood with two tall sons, TV and radio careerhood, grannyhood, the women’s RAF, life with five siblings, retirement with know-it-all husbands and, for good measure, a teensy bit of death and old-age deterioration.
Nothing controversial or confrontational rears its ugly head (though Trump and Johnson do crop up in passing). Stories and poems express clearly, simply – and often insistently rhythmically – the sentiments and experiences we all share as humans as point out the laughable, ridiculous side of so much of what constitutes everyday life. Then moments of poignant pathos enter the mix as a mother’s heart sinks when her child flies the nest to head for university or as The Last Hedgehog bewails the carelessness and ignorance of the human race yet manages to provide laughs along the painful way.
Miss Ayre’s passion for language is coupled with a joy and passion for nature, plants and wildlife, and she keeps their urgent protection high on her agenda. But whether she’s waxing lyrical about the flower meadows and abundant water voles of her youth, bouncing rhyming couplets through Don’t Put Me Dinner On A Slate, or hilariously contrasting the high hopes and expectations of a dinner party with its grim reality, every item is thoroughly engaging. All told with a simplicity that often belies the underlying hard work and heartfelt sentiments, this all makes for a sunny, funny, uplifting evening.
The tour carries on to Durham, Scarborough, Oxford, Colchester, Crawley, Paignton, Horsham, Poole, Radlett, Stevenage and Solihull.