The Theatreguide.London Review
Menier Chocolate Factory Spring-Summer 2015
Communicating Doors may not be absolutely top-level Alan Ayckbourn. But as I've had occasion to say in the past, the B-level work of A-level writers often has more to it than the A-level work of B-level writers.
This 1994 comedy has all the qualities we've come to expect from Ayckbourn – an ingenious concept with opportunities for clever staging, a mix of high comedy and low farce, and just enough of a touch of seriousness to leaven things without bringing them down.
If this one has lapses, it's because the cleverness is perhaps a bit too elaborate and forced, and the touches of serious emotion more pasted-on than integral.
This is Ayckbourn's time-travel play. A woman goes through a hotel room's side door and finds herself not in another room but the same room twenty years earlier.
She meets a second woman there and, after some confusion, that woman goes through the door to find herself a further twenty years into the past, meeting a third woman.
I've left out one key fact. The first woman went through that door to escape a killer who, she knows, had killed the second woman a little less than twenty years ago and the third a little less than forty years ago.
So there's a lot of life-saving, history-rewriting and future-changing on the cards, all while each time-traveller in turn struggles to convince the woman chronologically before her that she's not just a nut.
And, this being Ayckbourn, it goes without saying that all three time periods, along with another hotel room we detour to at one point, are represented by the same set. So added to the fun are the several moments when we, the audience, aren't quite sure where or when we are.
All this is directed by Lindsay Posner with the verve and don't-allow-too-much-time-for-thinking speed that farce demands. There's a particularly laugh-out-loud sequence involving a balcony that works precisely because laugh is piled on laugh without pause.
But elsewhere the complicated premise does require a few too many moments at which things slow down enough for explanations to be made and the characters onstage to catch up. And any slowing down in this kind of comedy lowers the energy and fun levels.
The leading role is the twenty-years-ago woman, the one who most quickly sorts out what's happening and takes charge of the save-all-our-lives campaign, and Imogen Stubbs plays her with feisty authority.
(Incidentally, Stubbs must have a really scary painting in her attic, because she has not aged visibly since her RSC debut three decades ago.)
But scene after scene is stolen by Rachel Tucker as the most modern of the three, bringing high energy to every emotion the character displays from panic through confusion to determination. Only an awkwardly soppy final scene – the pasted-on serious touch I mentioned – defeats her and director Posner.
You will laugh a lot, you will admire the cleverness of the construction and you might even be touched by some quieter moments.
If there are a very few Alan Ayckbourn plays that do all that even better, there are even fewer plays by anyone else that come close to Ayckbourn even at B-level.
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Review - Communicating Doors - Menier Chocolate Factory 2015