Communicating Doors (Theatre Royal, Brighton, until Saturday, June 11.
JUST when you thought you had seen everything playwright Alan Ayckbourn could possibly dream up, along comes an overdue revival of his 1994 offering Communicating Doors – a surprising, charming, thrilling, funny, wibbly wobbly timey wimey masterpiece.
Rarely seen since its first outing, this extraordinary play is probably best summed up as a comedy thriller, but there’s no easy way to describe a work which blends elements of Hitchcock, Doctor Who Ray Bradbury, and J.B. Priestley.
Set in a luxury hotel suite in London in 1990, 2010, and 2030 this is Ayckbourn (who also directs) at his most optimistic, daring to tackle time travel as a plot device, demanding suspension of disbelief in Shakespearian fashion, and tugging at the heartstrings for long enough so that tears fall before a genuinely upbeat and happy ending as good wins through.
An excellent and unrecognisable Ben Porter plays businessman Reece in 2030 who makes a deathbed confession as civil war rages outside to tart with a heart Poopay, admitting not only business misdemeanours but also conspiring to murder his first two wives. Dashing through a supposed cupboard door in an attempt to escape the murderous intentions of the dying man’s business partner, she finds herself time warped back 20 years to the night when wife number two, Ruella, is about to meet her fate – and she in turn travels back a further 20 years to the wedding night of Reece and his first wife Jessica.
It may sound complex, but it all makes perfect sense, and the joy comes in the strength of the characters, the cleverness and ingenuity of the plot, and the warmth of the central notion that you can change your life for the better.
Laura Doddington shines as the futureworld dominatrix, and allows the audience to love her to the extent that the heart leaps when her time-shifted fantastic altered state is revealed; Liza Goddard is simply brilliant as Ruella, a familiar Ayckbourn middle-aged female character given great depth and spirit, who we hope beyond hope is saved from her murder; and Daisy Aitkens is the sweet first wife who dares to believe the impossible.
A menacing Ben Jones is wonderfully sinister and chilling as the killer, evoking scary memories of the best murder mysteries without once resorting to melodrama, and Jamie Kenna completes the line-up as the likeably comic security man.
This is a well-paced production with zest, delivering suspense and laughs in equal measure, a highspot in the summer season that can only send you out happier and more hopeful than when you arrived.