What happens when the creations of a group of would-be writers come to life? Alan Ayckbourn explores the possibilities in his comedy Improbable Fiction, which opens at Theatre 3 on Friday.
The Pendon Writers' Circle is having one of its regular meetings at the home of its chairman, Arnold (played by Jerry Hearn). Its members are interested in a range of genres, ranging from science fiction to musicals, but most of them never seem to get anything finished.
Vivvi (Heather Spong) is an exception. She writes Agatha Christie-style detective fiction.
Spong said of her character, "She's written five stories, but hasn't had any of them published. She's working on her sixth."
And some of her characters come to life in the bizarre melange of genres that takes up the second act, "played" by members of the circle. At one point, science fiction buff Clem (Euan Bowen) becomes Detective Chief Inspector Jim Rash. Vivvi herself is Detective Sergeant Fiona Longstaff, hopelessly – and unrequitedly – in love with Rash.
Spong said, "Ayckbourn writes really well for actors – he gives us time to do costume changes."
And there are plenty of them in this, the British playwright's 69th play.
Bowen said his role as Clem, "a 30-something geek who writes science fiction" wasn't too much of a stretch, although "he's a lot less socially engaged than I am".
Hearn, Spong and Bowen had all appeared in Rep shows before. Making her Rep debut will be Maddy Kennedy, 18, as Ilse, the young woman who looks after Arnold's invalid mother during the meetings.
Corille Fraser is directing the play, the sixth and final production in Canberra Repertory Society's 80th birthday season. She said things were coming together in the days leading up to opening night except for one thing: Jasan Savage, who plays Brevis, came down with pneumonia and had to be replaced by Andrew Kay.
"Andrew's a great trouper," Fraser said.
"Euan and Jerry have been working with him and helping him."
Fortunately, the musical side of the role posed no challenges: Kay played piano for many years in Rep's Old Time Music Hall.
And take a close look at the set, designed by Wayne Shepherd: the family portraits are members of the crew who worked on it, including Shepherd and Russell Brown.
Improbable Fiction is on at Theatre 3, 3 Repertory Lane, Acton as follows: preview Thursday, November 22, at 8pm then November 23 to December 8, Wednesday to Saturday at 8pm with 2pm matinees on December 1, 2 and 8. Tickets $38 full, $32 concession, $27 preview. Bookings: 6257 1950 or canberrarep.org.au