Stage Review

Neighbourhood Watch (2011)

NEIGHBORHOOD WATCH Matthew Cottle and Frances Grey
Image credit: Karl Andre
NEIGHBORHOOD WATCH Matthew Cottle and Frances Grey
EW's GRADE
A-

Details Opening Date: Dec 07, 2011; Director: Alan Ayckbourn; Genre: Comedy

Warning: This show contains images of graphic violence that some viewers may find disturbing — specifically, the beheading of a pint-size, pointy-hatted, bearded garden dweller named Monty, a.k.a. Montmorency. Yes, a lawn gnome comes to his gruesome, untimely demise in Alan Ayckbourn's Neighbourhood Watch, now having its U.S. premiere at Off Broadway's 59E59 Theaters through Jan. 1. Brace yourself for the ceramic carnage.

For Martin (Matthew Cottle), Monty's owner, the stalwart and slightly sinister statue represents ''important'' things: ''Respectability and Decency, Honour and Moral Strength, Courage and Spiritual Conviction,'' explains his sister, Hilda (Alexandra Mathie). And it's those things that the 72-year-old Ayckbourn systematically destroys in Watch, a superbly crafted suburban-herd-mentality satire that marks his 75th play.

Even if you don't live in a respectable middle-class community like Bluebell Hill Development — where Martin and Hilda have just moved — chances are you've driven past one or visited your in-laws there. It's for people with a bit of money, but not a lot of money, or else it would be farther from the government housing project just down the hill, Councillor Mounjoy Estate. ''It's a cesspit,'' seethes overaggressive ex–security guard Rod (Terence Booth). ''Drugs, violence...incest.... Streets coated in vomit, blood, graffiti, and worse.... Sodom and Gomorrah.'' We suspect that he exaggerates, but the Monty murder and Rod's hedge-trimmer theft — ''Don't get him started,'' pleads Dorothy (Eileen Battye) — are enough to raise the residents' social consciousness and unite them in a collective cause: setting up a community watch.

Thanks to newly constructed 10-foot razor-wire-topped security fences, the Bluebell folk can't see that the greatest dangers are on their own streets, inside the now-locked, ID-required gates. Next-door neighbor Luther (Phil Cheadle), regularly lays into his wife, meek music teacher Magda (Amy Loughton). Cuckolded Gareth (Richard Derrington) shows a curious interest in crafting medieval torture devices. And hell hath no fury like the fiercely Christian Hilda when Martin falls for local floozy Amy (Frances Grey). Not only is the ''whore'' married, but she also insulted Hilda's wallpaper and color scheme. Really! She may as well have decapitated the woman's gnome. A–

(Tickets: TicketCentral.org or 212-279-4200)

Originally posted Dec 07, 2011
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