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FringeReview UK 2022

Communicating Doors

New Venture Theatre, Brighton

Genre: Comedy, Dark Comedy, Sci-fi, Theatre

Venue: New Venture Theatre Upstairs


Low Down

Directed by Ian Black, Shadow Director Neil Hadley, Production Manager Ulrike Schilling, Set Design Ian Black, Lighting Design Apollo Videaux, Sound Design Ian Black, Costume Design Richi Blennerhassett.

Set Construction John Everett, Simon Glazier, George Walter, Monika Schuettbacher, Bryony Weaver, Carol Croft,

Stage Manager Erin Burbridge  ASMs Carrie Hynds, Natalie Sacks. Properties Carrie Hynds, Light Operation Alex Epps, Apollo Videaux, Sound Operation Maximilian Logan-Wright. Poster/Programme Ian Amos. Photographer Strat Mastoris, Publicity and Marketing Ceiri O’Douglas, Tamsin Mastoris, Ulrike Schilling. Health and Safety Ian Black.

Thanks to Judith Burrell, Tim McQuillan-Wright, Rod Lewis, Cancer Research.

Till July 23rd


It’s back to the future of 1994.Though Ayckbourn’s Communicating Doors has been progressively postdated in some revivals, Ian Black in his NVT production returns to the original dates as we go through those eponymous doors of the Hotel Regal. Dystopian 2014, 1994, 1974 – where we spend the least time.

Indeed it’s mostly in 1994 where Sarah Charsley’s dominatrix (um ‘sex specialist’) Poopay flees after having signed in her own 2014 a confession by an old man, Reece (Lewis Todhunter): it makes her prey of the man’s sinister business partner, Julian, in Jonathan Howlett’s sinister avatar. ‘I’m going to have to keep an eye on him for the remainder of his days. He’s become a liability. Nothing like imminent death, is there, for bringing out a guilty conscience. Wouldn’t you agree?’ Which is why he’s now killing Poopay.

Aykbourn’s 2014 is a near dystopian future of regionalised turf wars where Croydon fights Lewisham, and the world’s a dangerous place. Poopay flees for her life through a hotel communicating door only to find herself in 1994 and the same room, occupied by a woman she knows dies that night: Ruella, Reece’s second wife. His first Jessica too died at Julian’s hands in 1981 and stalked by this psychopath in the present and the past, the opportunity to alter time for the better puts the lives of three women at stake.

Lyn Snowden’s Ruella is finally convinced by Poopay (real name Phoebe, which Ruella urges her to keep; there’s a bond). Especially when she herself goes through the communicating doors and finds herself in the same room in 1974, where the young Reece is enjoying a honeymoon (‘no-one enjoys a honeymoon’) with first wife Jessica (Amelia Thurley). Who believes Ruella’s as mad as she thought Poopay. Nothing else for it but to get Poopay’s secreted paper to 1974. But that’s back in 2014 in a bidet, and you can’t travel forward in time, only back, and er.. back again. Think relay races and bedroom doors slamming. This is a very different farce.

This relay of evidence-collecting, pleading and pay-off might sound farcical and much of it plays out that way. But it’s an important play in treating of freewill, predestination and the possibility of change and indeed redemption. The oldest Reece of 2014, near death, talks of a Faustian pact he made. Ayckbourn asks: can that be unmade? He further suggests it’s not the men like Reece here who matter: it’s ultimately the three women who understand – indeed have to. It’ll change their lives, not only by lengthening them, but Poopay’s too in the most moving tug of all.

Though Charsley doesn’t age – you can’t if you’re travelling backwards yourself in Ayckbourn’s logic, as there’s a double far younger somewhere – she does undergo transformation. Charsley’s vocally spot-on and with Snowden carries the burden of the evening. Her responses – terror, savage exhilaration, hopelessness, are quietly riveting and believable.

Snowden, the strong woman terrified underneath is sovereign as the resourceful Ruella, the one who plots out what must happen. Again Snowden’s clear rationale the way she thinks out the plot is vividly conveyed.

Not to say there isn’t death. One man dies twice at the same time, only let’s be clear, it’s the same man in two bodies aged twenty years apart and nearly at the same moment. And to facilitate everything there’s James Claridge’s truculent, decent Harold, the man who dreams of his own yacht, but seems forever condemned to be the security man. It’s a fine performance and like Jessica and Reece, he ages well so to speak.

In fact Reece has two outcomes, two very different ones in this. Todhunter’s doddery self is a fine piece f physical and vocal acting. It’s a shock to see the lean young man forty years earlier, albeit briefly and a significantly different Reece at the end, if just a touch younger than I’d have credited. Todhunter’s a fine actor, able to differentiate his voice to such different outcomes; it’s a key part plotwise but Ayckbourn’s not writing about him. He appears as little as Thurley’s Jessica but when he does it’s always a revelation.

Thurley as the outraged young woman on her honeymoon is 1970s umbrage itself. In her transformation – she’s someone grown in stature – Thurley conveys a capacity for change, if indeed Jessica always courts danger. Thurley makes sue of pause and reflection, Again a consummate performance. Jessica like Reece undergoes a physical transformation. Costume designer Richi Blennerhassett is full of smart changes and includes telling use of make-up and wigs.

The excellent Howlett specialises in dark characters, and Julian middle-aged or older menaces so well you want something nasty to happen to him. Howlett carries the weight of desperate ad just one death away from total power.

Ian Black’s set is a delight of white doors with a turntable effect downstage right on one, and another door leading to a corridor. Opposite there’s a toilet cut-away, doors, and the room itself typical hotel with desk, sofa, and painting.  Apollo Videaux’ lighting is particularly effective in changing the view outside as London shifts decades, as well as hotel-bright subjected to neat blackouts, Black designed the eerie ticking sound too.

In short an excellent revival and the best chance to see this remarkable thriller-cum-farce-cum-meditation; like all but ten or so of  Ayckbourn’s 87 plays, it gets revived too infrequently, and has claims to be in at least the top twenty. But then back to the future will settle Ayckbourn’s canon. Unless someone slides through communicating doors to tell us.