The Sparrow: World Premiere Reviews

This page contains reviews of the world premiere production of Alan Ayckbourn's The Sparrow at the Library Theatre, Scarborough, in July 1967. It is not a complete set of reviews as the aim of the page is to offer a flavour of how the play was originally received and to offer a cross-section of opinion. All reviews on this page are the copyright of the respective publication and / or author and should not be reproduced.

New Play Certain Of West End Run
(by John Stevenson) This play will be running in the West End in a year or two's time making packed audiences laugh very loud and very often. It's what is now happening to the author's comedy Relatively Speaking. Not that the two plays have much in common, apart from the author's likely talent. He has shrewdly avoided the lure that has led many a playwright to disaster -the temptation to re-write an earlier hit. True, this comedy, like Relatively Speaking, is a foursome for mixed doubles. But this one is low comedy instead of high, and a slice of life cut from a much cheaper but equally tasty joint. Into the shared flat and mixed-up lives of two young men, bus conductor and would-be tycoon respectively, comes a gawky, ugly but bright girl - the sparrow of the title. The rest is their relationship, complicated by the arrival of a fourth - the wife of the apprentice big businessman. That's all. The play depends absolutely on the characterisation, which is both deft and deep, and its dialogue, which is funny, sharp and genuinely original. This production has the benefit of good performances all round, particularly by Pamela Craig, as the sparrow, and John Nettles as her bus conductor boyfriend, and a sure, confident direction by the author himself. (Daily Mail, July 1967)

Cockney Play Likeable (by Eric Shorter) No point in expecting miracles twice over. Just because Alan Ayckbourn had a new play coming on at Theatre in the Round, Scarborough, was no reason for supposing that we should get another comedy as deliciously theatrical and cleverly contrived as the successful Relatively Speaking. But you can tell that The Sparrow is by the same playwright. It is again very neat and amusing and likeable and breezily free of all pretence at being anything but light entertainment; and it gave pretty constant, chuckling pleasure to a full house of holidaymakers sitting and facing one another at the Municipal Library tonight. This time Mr. Ayckbourn's characters are young cockneys. Back to his shared and seedy flat, in SW 27, comes a timid bus conductor with his brisk little pickup, both of whom have been drenched by rain. She considers him uninspiring but safe. Things happen when the other man arrives, however. He is masterful, cool, mysterious, attractive and claims to run some kind of business on the premises. Curious, the girl consents to become his secretary until his socially superior wife returns and reclaims him for their ritual quarrels. It is then that the shop-girl seems to settle for the dull but tolerable bus conductor, instead of inspiring some ambitious chap to become she knows not what. In this girl, Mr. Ayckbourn has created a character every bit as real and true to today as that other flightier "bit" in There's A Girl In My Soup and in his dialogue, especially for the spivvish tenant of the flat, his writing is worthy of Pinter at his funniest. But the piece begins to show its contrivance at half time and the pleasant hold it has had on our attention, we have witnessed no more than a skilful diversion nicely acted by Pamela Craig, John Nettles, Robert Powell and Heather Stoney.* The evening is a tribute to the policy of companies which cultivate playwrights of their own. This group can take a special pride in an old member, Mr. Ayckbourn, who has mastered his earlier whimsical tendencies and begun to get down to theatrical brass tacks. He, himself, directed tonight's play." (Daily Telegraph, July 1967)

A New Ayckbourn Comedy A casual meeting between a bus driver and a girl in a dance hall, a downpour of rain which drenches them to the skin and drives them into the man's squalid flat to dry off, is the scene and setting for Alan Ayckbourn's The Sparrow, which had its premiere at the Library Theatre, Scarborough, last week. Evie, the sparrow, and Ed the bus conductor, are getting along fine until the arrival of Tony, the spiv type, complete with immaculate hair do, smart suit, gloves, and cigar who owns the flat, allowing Ed to share it. He orders Evie out. In the end, after some argument. Tony allows her to stay, but she has to sleep in the bath. Tony's flat is also his office, where he poses as a tycoon and dreams up great schemes, and Evie, who believes she is just made to he the driving force behind some man, agrees to become his secretary. His "top drawer" wife eventually draws him back, and presumably Evie is left with the bus conductor. The comedy is full of laughs from slick and witty dialogue. Pamela Craig's Evie, her expressions, positions and her mini dress and general get up are a joy. She is on stage throughout and gives a first-rate performance. John Nettles as Ed is a likeable, simple, ordinary chap, who is quite satisfied to be a bus conductor. Robert Powell doesn't miss a trick in his characterisation of Tony and Heather Stoney's brief appearance as his well-dressed, well-bred wife completes a small but very talented company doing justice to what should prove to be a popular comedy. (The Stage, May 1978)

It’s Slick And Terrific (by David Jeffels)
With a smash hit comedy at present running in London, 27-year-old Alan Ayckbourn has come up with another laughter packed work in his latest play,
The Sparrow, which he saw having its premiere to a delighted audience at Scarborough’s Theatre in the Round last night.
It’s slick and sophisticated comedy had the audience in raptures from the start. The four strong young cast are terrific.
Pamela Craig plays the unfortunate girl who finds herself unwittingly involved in an extra-ordinary household.
John Nettles plays a sympathetic bus conductor who brings the girl home to his mate’s flat. His good intentions place him in dead trouble and faced with having to leave the flat because of the girl - and his mate’s wife. Mate Tony is played by Robert Powell.
Completing the quartet is Heather Stoney as Powell's estranged wife who creates jealousy in the household.
It reminds one of Shaffer’s
Private Ear, but the comedy is much more witty and original.
(Northern Echo, 14 July 1967)

A Laugh A Minute In New Play
The second premier in a week was staged in the round in Scarborough’s Library Theatre last night. Alan Ayckbourn’s The Sparrow, a comedy about a girl who ends herself unwittingly involved in an extraordinary household and her attempts to sort things out.
Ed meets Evie at a dance and takes her back to the flat he shares after they both get soaked in the rain. He thinks they are getting on all right - until the arrival of his flatmate Tony.
Evie stays on at the flat as private secretary of Tony’s imaginary company, but then Tony’s wife returns to the fold and everything is back to square one again.
Evie is a perky cockney sparrer type in a micro-dress and a pair of luminous green tights (that never seem to have quite dried off from the rainstorm) and with Pamela Craig in this part it is a laugh a minute. She has the same gawky attraction as Una Stubbs, stomping around the flat quite happily and typing spasmodically on an aged type-writer - “who d’you buy this from then, Charles Dickens?”.
John Nettles slips with ease into the part of Ed, a bit of a spiv but quite a likeable character. The greasy hair and the shiny suit are perfect - after all "I'm not a gentleman, I’m a ruddy bus conductor.” He is under no illusions about companies and getting to the top - he is in a rut.
Tony, however - cigars and black leather gloves - has lots of ambitions but is not likely to achieve them. Robert Powell is delightfully suave in this part - shades of
Alfie.
His wife, Julia, knows what he is really like, which is probably why they do not exactly live in a state of married bliss. Heather Stoney as Julia is terribly upper-crust, all camel cardigan and patent shoes, an apt contrast to dolly-girl Evie.
Alan Ayckbourn began his stage career as assistant stage manager with the theatre-in-the-round company in 1957, and his play
Relatively Speaking is at present having a very successful run in the West End.
(Scarborough Evening News, 14 July 1967)

*This paragraph has been adapted in a bid to make sense of the original paragraph, which as published read: "But the piece begins to show its cannot help feeling that, for all contrivance at half time and we the pleasant hold it has had on our attention, we have witnessed no more than a skilful diversion nicely acted by Pamela Craig, John Nettles, Robert Powell and I Heather Stoney."

All reviews are copyright of the respective publication.