ALARMS & EXCURSIONS
by Michael Frayn.
Tour to 20 August 2011.
Runs 2hr One interval.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 29 July at Richmond Theatre.
The sounds of technology replace the voice of God in skilfully-revived scenes.
Overshadowed at its 1998 opening by the success of Michael Frayn’s more cerebral Copenhagen, this collection of short pieces sees the author near to Alan Ayckbourn territory. In the first of Frayn’s scenes an unidentified flying ‘beep’ expands into a cacophony of automated sounds, overwhelming mere middle-class mortals who can’t even open a bottle of wine. The limitation of sophisticated humanity’s emphasised when the second half opens by revisiting them at the weary end of a sociable evening.
And there’s something Ayckbourn-like about an over-extended account of two socially different couples in adjacent hotel rooms, listening-in and misunderstanding what’s going on through a wafer-thin dividing wall.
The playwrights share a fascinated phobia over technology. People in these scenes are repeatedly hounded by beeps and buzzes or assailed by amplified announcements. What marks it out as Frayn’s work is a more general sense of reality seeming to fall away.
Some neat sketches include one about on-board airline security announcements, and the attempt of listeners during a company speech to hold on to annual report, paper-plate and glass while riffling through pages, applauding and offering toasts.
Nothing dates art so much as technology; power-point presentations avoid the need to follow the chairman’s speech around numerous page references. And an opening voice-over announcement to the last scene reminds we are returning to the dark days before widespread mobile-’phone use.
Immobiles is a compact farce carried out through payphones and an answering machine as husband and wife attempt to pick-up a visiting mother and the German friend of one or other of them, though neither can remember which. The technology that’s helping them becomes a source of frustration thanks to human error. It’s the most testing scene for the staging skills of director Joe Harmston and the four actors embodying increasingly desperate characters.
All are accomplished throughout, and specially here: Robert Daws’ ever-optimistic German visitor, Aden Gillett’s increasingly ragged husband, Serena Evans as the wife gradually becoming embroiled in the arrangements, Belinda Lang as a mother clearly unused to life in this part of London, while Harmston skilfully winds the spring of Frayn’s farce.
Cast: Robert Daws, Belinda Lang, Aden Gillett, Serena Evans.
Director: Joe Harmston.
Designer: Simon Scullion.
Lighting: Ben Cracknell.
Sound/Composer: Matthew Bugg.