by Alan Ayckbourn.
Old Laundry Theatre Crag Brow LA23 3BX To 17 November 2012.
Mon-Sat 8pm Mat Thu & Sat 3pm.
Runs 2hr 50min Two intervals.
TICKTS: 0844 504 0604.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 3 November at New Vic Theatre Newcastle-under-Lyme.
We have been here before: Ayckbourn returns to time-travel.
Theatres have been showing Alan Ayckbourn plays since 1959; almost every year he’s written at least one new piece. This span divides roughly half-way. Up to 1984’s A Chorus of Disapproval the emphasis was on observing the (di)stresses of middle-class family life; since 1985’s Woman in Mind the scope has widened, with time-travel, dreams and delusions, robots and androids ‘peopling’ his plays.
That’s a generalisation, with exceptions either side (Way Upstream or House and Garden for example). Overall, though, there’s also been a growing sinister element in plays where laughter has become less the source of entertainment – though few of his plays have a bigger final sting than 1972’s Absurd Person Singular (revived this summer with the same cast as the new Surprises).
Ayckbourn’s been famously critical of marriage, but a need for family, or a loving human relationship, speaks through the androids, humanising or coldly effective in unfeeling simulation of human companionship, of his later plays, as it does in 1994’s Communicating Doors.
Surprises, another time-travel play, though one set wholly in the future, shows a search for happiness, with an apparently perennial generation-gap as a wealthy father seeks to prevent his daughter marrying an unsuitable young man. The more Ayckbourn piles on the time-travel details and the futuristic technology, the more he evidently uses them as a superstructure to explore human relationships, including loss, loneliness and yearning.
So lengthened lifespans (with their increased capacity for unhappiness) and advanced technology (bringing faked gratifications) allow new angles for looking at human desires and demands; as if J B Priestley’s time ideas combined with Bertolt Brecht’s distancing devices in a comedy where the surprises lead to a familiar resolution.
By the side of Absurd Person, another play of three linked acts separated in time, Surprises seems synthetically concocted to make its points. Compared with almost anybody else’s new play, it’s a humorously perceptive piece of dramatic ingenuity.
Cast largely from veteran Scarborough Ayckbournians, the piece is acted with flair. Laura Doddington is particular impressive; a performer who combines a comic edge with a sense of underlying depth, and unspoken desperation.
Grace/Seraphina: Ayesha Antoine.
Franklin: Bill Champion.
Gorman/Jan/Fabiano: Richard Stacey.
Zandy/Sylvia: Laura Doddington.
Inez/Lorraine/Bellina: Sarah Parks.
Titus/Conrad: Ben Porter.
Director: Alan Ayckbourn.
Designer: Michael Holt.
Lighting: Jason Taylor.
Surprises will be redirected by Alan Ayckbourn for a tour of proscenium and end stages in spring 2013.