Neighbourhood Watch is veteran playwright Alan Ayckbourn's 75th play. It is a strongly political drama set in an upper middle class neighbourhood. The protagonists Martin and Hilda are siblings and new residents at Bluebell Hill, which overlooks a working class housing estate.
The siblings meet a few of the locals at their housewarming party. After Martin encounters a young boy, who he assumes to be trespassing through his garden, the pair decide to set up a Neighbourhood Watch group. When the group decide to go ahead without the involvement of any police officers, the previously quiet inhabitants of Bluebell Hill become vigilant and the play takes a darker turn. Though Neighbourhood Watch must have been written before the recent riots, the "vigilante" behaviour of these characters as they plot against the local "hoodies" has chilling parallels with the actions of some in the aftermath of the rioting.
The play raises a number of social issues - the most obvious being class. The storyline does more than just touch the surface of class struggles. One character, Rod, suggests putting a ten foot high fence between the garden and the housing estate, saying, "They'll be walking in and out of here all day long otherwise, riff raff and vermin."
The Neighbourhood Watch group is driven by class hatred. Similarly sexism rears its head consistently through the play. A lot of it is disguised as characters hankering after "that old-fashioned way of life", in which women do the cooking, make the tea and decide what colour the wallpaper should be.
What I found particularly interesting throughout Neighbourhood Watch is that there isn't at any point a clear divide between right and wrong. Often the characters you trusted to start with later express prejudiced opinions and have dark secrets that are gradually revealed. Luther, for example, initially stands up for the poorer people in the housing estate. As his character develops, however, he is exposed for beating his wife, Magda. Soon Magda is put into a situation where she is confronted about her bruises, and eventually she feels capable of communicating what has happened.
In a question and answer session about the play Alan Ayckbourn commented, "I'm always a great believer, when I write a play, to narrow it down to the people. Plays are about people for me, not about issues - the issues arise from the people." With Neighbourhood Watch Ayckbourn has done a good job of exploring fractious social issues through flawed and believable characters.
Neighbourhood Watch is at the Stephen Joseph Theatre in Scarboreough until 15 October