Communicating Doors**** (Menier Chocolate Factory)

Posted: May 20, 2015 in Theatre

communicating doors

Alan Ayckbourn and I have drifted apart in recent times, amidst a growing feeling that his comedies of middle class social manners now feel very dated. After his big successes of the 1970s and 80s, many of Ayckbourn’s plays delved into darker areas of the human condition and others have tackled science fiction and the supernatural, but I still did not find those that I saw (by no means all of them), fully satisfying. This one, dating from 1995, is a comedy-thriller on the theme of time travel; it had previously escaped me, but the fact that Lindsay Posner is directing and it is being staged at the wonderful Menier made it worth a look and I am happy to say that this is the first production of an Ayckbourn play that I have truly enjoyed for more than 30 years. The play is set in 1980, 2000 and 2020 in a luxury hotel suite (splendidly designed by Richard Kent), which has a closet enabling those entering to travel backwards and forwards in time. It begins in 2020 with a dying man meeting a prostitute in the suite, whilst civil disorder is rife in the street below. Rachel Tucker’s Poopay, the bewildered whore, aided by a document that had been stuffed down a bidet, colludes with her client’s feisty wives, Ruella (Imogen Stubbs) in 2000 and Jessica (Lucy Briggs-Owen) in 1980 to bring to a halt the murderous spree of Julian (David Bamber), the sort who would kill his own mother and, in fact, did exactly that. A hapless hotel detective (Matthew Cottle) gets dragged into the ensuing mayhem. Obviously, suspension of disbelief is essential and very little stands up to scrutiny after the curtain call, but the beauty of the writing and direction is that they carry us with the play whilst it is all going on. Aided by a top class cast, Ayckbourn and Posner ensure that this production pulls off the notable double of being both hilarious and suspenseful; they throw in a couple of shocks to jolt us and the big highlight is what must surely be the best balcony scene since Romeo and Juliet, although it is far, far funnier. Not everything is wonderful; corrupt businessmen and ill-used housewives are familiar stereotypes in Ayckbourn and the conservative (small “c”) values that they represent sometimes cause irritation, particularly when they embrace sneering attitudes to minority groups, as again here. Also, the final scene is possibly the most stilted in all Ayckbourn’s 79 plays, with two characters revealing to each other what both already know just for the benefit of the audience. However, it contains a surprise that is such a peach and rounds of the play so perfectly that it almost makes the appalling writing of the scene forgivable. Taken overall, this production is terrific entertainment.

Performance date: 19 May 2015

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