Communicating Doors

Colin Lawrence reviews Communicating Doors

Communicating Doors
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.