I love Alan Ayckbourn. Let's just get that out there. Of the super prolific playwrights who've dominated theatre since the seventies (I'd argue Williamson, Neil Simon and Ayckbourn are the respective champions of Australian, US and UK theatre in terms of sheer prolificness), he's the most formally innovative, cleverest, funniest and often, the one with the most insight into human nature and its undoings.
"Improbable Fiction" is in the purer-fluff end of his writing, a light entertainment with no greater message, perhaps, than the ever-important instruction "if you're going to be a writer, then write" - perhaps with an overly mild Act one to set up, but the standard Ayckbourn playing-with-form kicks in with a vengeance for Act two as the play starts bouncing across multiple genres with ease in a gleeful showcase that allows the performers to showcase their versatility and skill.
Glueing it all together in this production is Jerry Hearn, playing what is essentially the audience point of view character, essentially the straight man. It's been a while since I've seen him, and in this one, he strangely resembled Geoffrey Borny (in all the best ways - charming and meek and with a natty red jumper) - a perfect gentleman in bizarre and befuddling circumstances.
The other six members of the ensemble bounce between roles with maximum speed and wit - each displaying their various strengths. Andrew Kay substituted in for Jasan Savage at fairly short notice, but if it wasn't for the occasional glance at a script here and there, you wouldn't be able to tell - he fits in spectacularly. I will say that it's obvious that Euan Bowen has dreamed for years of a role where he'd be given a cape, and celebrates his chance to flourishes one delightfully.
Madelaine Kennedy brings a playful sense of fun and makes it clear why she'd be the centre of attention from six different writers, Kate Blackhurst has the closest to an "authors message" speech as the one writer least convinced she should continue and makes it fly, Christa deJaeger is poignant in act one and suitably wild in act two and Heather Spong is giddily gorgeous in act one and, by turns, grim, soppy and taciturn in act two.
Enhancing it all are the costumes by Miriam Miley-Read (several different fantastic looks for the various cast members), the adaptable set by Wayne Shepherd and the creative lighting by Chris Ellyard. I'm not as sold on the original music by Wayne Sheperd and the sound design by Mike Maloney - the original tune for the musical number is lovely, but the pre-show and interval music sounds tacky and cheap and tends to annoy rather than sooth you into the show (keyboards have their place, but when they sound too "keyboardy", that's ... not the right place).
All in all, this is a fun night out, perfectly made for the silly season.