Sunday, December 11, 2011

Not in Their Back Yard in 'Neighbourhood Watch'

Martin (Matthew Cottle) and company push back against hooliganism in "Neighbourhood Watch." Photos by Karl Andre Photography.


to the shrill noise of fear-mongering can make vigilantes of even the most mild mannered.

In “Neighbourhood Watch,” a Brits Off Broadway production at 59E59 Theaters through 1 Jan., it’s the pacifist Martin (Matthew Cottle) who has turned activist.

Matthew has just moved to The Bluebell Hill Development with his sister, Hilda (Alexandra Mathie), who mobilizes his neighbors against the threats of lawlessness from the nearby housing project, or “estate” as the British more grandly call it.

Martin, egged on by Rod (Terence Booth) who is a “retired security bloke,” organizes a crime watch with his neighbors. “It’s either a fence or a dozen yobbos coming up the hill,” Rod says, “intent on vandalizing the place.”

Fueled by this paranoia, the newcomers overreact, setting up committees for self-defense. They also issue identity cards to the tenants and have industrial fencing installed about the perimeter. Martin and Hilda even put Gareth (Richard Derrington), an out of work engineer, to work building stocks and other deterrents to bad behavior.

In “Neighbourhood Watch,” the acting is universally intelligent and understated. Frances Grey as the resident tart, Amy, is a cheerfully welcome complement to the bachelors and loners in the cast of characters.

The play moves a bit slowly in the first act through what seems like endless committee meetings. Perhaps, though, this is playwright and director Alan Ayckbourn’s way of demonstrating the tedium of such proceedings.

Alexandra Mathie as Hilda and Frances Grey as Amy in "Neighbourhood Watch."

By the way, the headline in this commentary could be that this is AA’s 75th play since 1959 when he started writing at the Stephen Joseph Theatre in North Yorkshire. He was also the theater's artistic director until his retirement in 2009. At the age of 72, the Knight and recipient of both the British Olivier and American Tony Awards for Special Lifetime Achievement, has not lost his touch at very British humor.

As “Neighbourhood Watch” progresses, it comes as no surprise that Martin’s plan to defend life and property falls apart, creating more mayhem than it foils. The way that everything unravels in the play is hilariously pulled together so that in the end it earns its standing as bittersweet farce in the AA canon.

To learn more about “Neighbourhood Watch” visit http:// or

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