Review: Ayckbourn’s Communicating Doors

22 Jun

Just a quick review of The Stephen Joseph Theatre Company’s ‘Communicating Doors’, written and directed by Alan Ayckbourn (at The Oxford Playhouse until 25th June, then Richmond Theatre 27th June- 2nd July).  (edit- when I said quick I forgot that I tend to ramble.)

Having read ‘Absurd Person Singular’ and ‘Absent Friends’, I thought I had cottoned on to Ayckbourn’s style. Unfortunately I think I picked the wrong play of his to be my first viewing of his work on stage. ‘Communicating Doors’ was received well by the audience at Oxford Playhouse, however at times I felt as if I must have been on a different hymn sheet. I did enjoy the play, by the end, but I have to admit that for the first twenty minutes or so I was wondering what I was doing there.

My initial feeling of detachment and disengagement was based on the feeling that I had walked into an amateur dramatics performance (please don’t take offence as I am partial to a bit myself). Laura Doddington as Poopay started off, perhaps conversely, a bit too slow and a bit too over the top. Her punch-lines, if you like, were delivered more to get a laugh pantomime style than from a result of being fully engaged with their immediate meaning within the context of the dialogue and Ben Jones, as Julian, was very two-dimensional. Luckily, unlike Jones, Doddington came into her own as soon as the meaty part of the story got underway. I’m not sure the clunky start did her any favours. Poopay is a dominatrix who thinks she has been hired by Reece (Ben Porter) for her “sexual consultancy”. He, however, only wants her to sign as a witness to a confession he has written, as a dying man, explaining that his business partner and friend, Julian, is guilty of killing Reece’s first and second wives, Jessica and Ruella. The audience is given a lot of information at once, the reasons for which unravel later, but it just seems that Reece’s character is simply there as a catalyst for the plot and there is not much excitement for the audience in the opening.

The play seems to be trying to do too many things at once and, in my opinion, it only manages this to a certain extent. It is a fantasy, comedy and thriller all rolled into one, where the characters time travel through the use of communicating doors in a London hotel between the years 1990, 2010 and 2030. These years have a significance for the characters of Jessica, Ruella and Poopay and their fates and planned deaths by the hands of Julian. The basic aim of the three female characters is to use the time travel to try and save themselves from certain death.

Personally, I enjoyed the second half of the play so much more. Liza Goddard, as Ruella, and Jamie Kenna, as the hotel’s porter and investigator Harold (a relatively unimportant but definitely the funniest role), as well as the increasingly sympathetic and funny character of Poopay played bigger roles and filled the production with a light and shade which lifted it into the witty yet moving production I expected. Goddard, as the put upon second wife of Reece, manages to convey vulnerability, humour, strength of will and a caring side simultaneously and when Reece delivers some news to Poopay at the end of the play I realised that I had been empathising with her character and that I had been drawn in to her story and to her developing friendship with Poopay. Another saving grace of the production was that by the end, it was clear that Ayckbourn had obviously very concientiously and cleverly made sure that the comedy and the thriller aspects balanced very well and there were laughs and gasps from the audience (yes, including me) in equal measure.

All in all, the initial cynic in me who I could feel developing at the start of the first half was just about quashed by a rather amusing and touching play. I’d give it three stars.

(Apologies for any strange sentence structures or spelling mistakes. It’s quite late..)

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