by Alan Ayckbourn
performed by Waterbeach Community Players
directed by Mark Easterfield
Time Warp Full Of Surprises
Ever since the publication of H G Wells's novel 'The Time Machine', a number of playwrights have used time travel as a plot mechanism. Alan Ayckbourn's Communicating Doors even provides a nice touch by referencing Mr Wells in naming one of the play's characters after him.
Set in a suite of a five star hotel, the play continually leaps forward and back in twenty year periods, guiding the audience through a comedic time warp which is full of surprises.
Poopay (by the way, what kind of name is that?) is a dominatrix whose services have been engaged by the ageing and distinctly unwell businessman, Reece Wells. Expecting to provide her usual box of delights, she soon discovers that what's required of her on this occasion is nothing more than her signature as a witness on a confession document outlining Reece's involvement in his many crimes and underhand business activities. This seemingly simply task then propels her through time via the communicating door of the play's title. A number of very funny episodes follow involving Reece, his former wives Jessica and Ruella (another weird name), two convoluted murder plots involving Reece's obnoxious business associate, Julian, and the hotel's 'bluntest knife in the box' security manager, Harold.
Director Mark Easterfield successfully ensured that his cast worked well together to keep the action flowing, despite a few flat and (surprisingly for an Ayckbourn play) overwritten sections of script. Mark very wisely elected to make the action naturalistic, avoiding the trap of introducing a lot of unnecessary moves. The play contains many one-to-one conversations and these looked and felt both realistic and appropriate in terms of where the actors were on stage. The play calls for several action set pieces. In the main these were well choreographed, but would have been more effective and frightening (after all, this is predominantly a black comedy) if the protagonists had perhaps made a bit more noise during the physical sequences. More variety in pacing and volume in the overlong explanatory sections of the play would also have lifted the action.
Jane Stewart as the hapless Poopay, clad in classic black leather which left little to the imagination, successfully communicated just how far out of her depth the character was as she desperately sought to get her head around her increasingly bizarre situation. Chip Colquhoun, in the role of Reece, is required to appear at different times of his long life, from old to young. He actor handled the ageing process well with the aid of some effective make up. As his ruthless and highly toxic business colleague, Julian, David Morris effectively conveyed the right amount of malevolence, both as his older and younger self, providing more than a sufficiency of menace.
As the apparently unwitting voice of reason in the relentless chaos, Christine Easterfield as Ruella held the middle ground very well indeed. In her scene with Poopay when what's really happening dawns on both of them, a quicker realisation and a faster delivery from both of them would have heightened the effect. To be fair, the author's dialogue at this point is somewhat over-stretched. Kat Maltby as the young and later more mature Jessica, managed the transition between her two personas with an assured confidence and a good mixture of characterisation. Michael Husband as the dim 'jobsworth' hotel security manager reinforced the character's puny efforts to exert his lack of authority with the occasional twitch and stutter to illustrate just how ineffectual Harold really was.
This was an entertaining piece of theatre well executed against an excellent set which conveyed the changes in time extremely well. The simple touch of changing just one item of decor per period of time was both clever and highly effective. This production was full of plenty to think about with its passing nod to H G Wells. Congratulations all round, not forgetting the most welcoming front-of-house staff and the hardworking team behind the scenes. A good night out.
By Alan Ayckbourn
performed by Waterbeach Community Players
directed by Mark Easterfield
Dr Who's Tardis is well known for being a lot bigger on the inside than the outside, but the time travel device in this unusual play by Alan Ayckbourn is even smaller - a set of doors which apparently lead nowhere but enable the person who enters to travel back 20 years. I have to admit that I found this play quite difficult to follow, but then I am the kind of person who does tend to lose the plot of anything after it has twisted a few times, so the fault lies in me rather than the actors or director, who, in the main, did an excellent job with this production. The play is set in a sixth floor suite in a luxury London hotel and opens with a prostitute (sorry, Specialist Sexual Consultant) named Poopay (yes, honestly) who finds that her 70 year old client Reece is asking for a rather different service from that which she usually provides. Reece is dying and wants Poopay to witness his signature to a confession of murdering both his wives. I will not even try to summarise the rest of the plot, but via the communicating doors Poopay meets both Jessica, Reece's first wife, and Ruella, his second, and the three of them manage to change the course of events such that when we finally return to the time frame of the opening scene, we find that the original unhappy ending (or beginning, depending on how you look at it) has become a much happier one.
The set was an ambitious one for an amateur company to attempt and was very impressive in its construction. I would have liked a little more opulence to befit a luxury suite - the curtains, for example, did not seem to fit very well, and a little more colour and maybe pictures on the walls would have helped to break up the uniformity of the background. However, the ingenious cutaway wall of the hotel bathroom enabled us to see clearly those parts of the action which took place away from the main room. There were a few glitches with the operation of the communicating door assembly and also with the inset in the back wall which helped to identify changing time periods by displaying different flowers or vases, but these things happen despite the best efforts of the stage crew. Costumes were fine, especially the bondage gear worn by Jane Stewart as Poopay with great confidence and total assurance. (I also enjoyed the brief appearances of Reece as a young man obviously having a great honeymoon with his first wife Jessica.) The stage was well lit, with the use of blue light following a blackout to indicate a transition to a new time frame, and the sound effects were appropriate and relayed at the right level.
This is a play for actresses and all three were well cast and gave good performances. Jane Stewart, who for my money is a very fine character actress, was completely believable as a professional dominatrix who has used the sex trade as a way out of her deprived childhood. Her matter-of-factness concerning her chosen profession gave way to deep distress following an attempt on her life which led her to admit the unhappiness of her home life, both as a child and as an adult. I would particularly commend the clarity of a dialogue in which she was facing upstage - I had no problem in hearing every word. Christine Easterfield also excelled as Ruella, the kind, sensible and brave second wife, whose determination to escape her apparent destiny drove the plot. I felt once or twice that she was looking for a little more to do in terms of movement to develop her characterisation, but she coped very well with an occasional drop in the pace of the play, picking up the action and pushing it forward. Katherine Maltby played the part of Jessica very well, particularly in the second act when purporting to be another murder victim apparently restored to life, and subsequently in her re-married state as Countess Rizzini. A very good line in aristocratic hauteur, I thought. The men were given less scope in their roles, but Chip Colquhoun moved with impressive ease between his different ages, portraying a young man in the prime of life and a terminally ill 70 year old with equal conviction. My only quibble with his performance lay in the final scene, which I found especially hard to follow. I think this lay with his appearance rather than his acting - at this point he needs to be 70, and admittedly still in good health rather than terminally ill, but he looked far younger to me and this didn't seem to accord with what the dialogue was telling me about what had happened in the alternative scenario (the happy ending.) I felt that David Morris was not entirely at ease in his role as Julian, Reece's business partner and murder operative. His vocal delivery was strong and menacing, but his body language was a little at odds with this. Nevertheless, it was a thoroughly competent performance. Michael Husband as usual found plenty to play with in the minor role of Harold, the hotel security guard who is called upon to deal with the various unpleasantnesses which arise in the luxury accommodation. His comic timing was most effective.
The audience definitely enjoyed their evening, although I was comforted by the fact that several of them seemed to have been nearly as confused by the plot as I was! However, I found much to admire and enjoy, although the script would not have been my choice to direct. Mark Easterfield is to be congratulated on having done a fine directing job as well as a stupendous set construction one.
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