Alarms and Excursions - More Plays Than One

Michael Frayn
Yvonne Arnaud Theatre, Guildford, and touring
(2011)

Alarms and Excursions - More Plays Than One publicity image

Presented as a series of eight playlets (or sketches) in the style of a revue, each one reflects the author’s view of a world increasingly being swamped and sabotaged by technology and conformity, and everything seen on stage here is so very true.

Who doesn’t have a drawer full of instruction booklets for all the gadgets bought over the years, many of them having bitten the dust years previously! Haven’t we all at some time searched the house for that elusive buzz, bleep or chink emanating from something technical - somewhere! Aren’t we constantly being bombarded by noise from telephones, burglar alarms, buzzers and bleepers, and haven’t we all suffered injury from the newfangled easy-opening bottle-opener or some similar device? In spite of it all, are we not still fascinated by the latest gadgets believing they will revolutionise our lives - or is that just me?

Happily all our problems do not usually occur at once, as at the opening unfortunate dinner party with one guest having to be transported to A and E while the others rush frenetically around trying to locate an important telephone call which their network is ricocheting around every room in the house. To add to the confusion and chaos every other alarm possible is making its presence felt.

The second playlet shows two couples in adjacent identical hotel rooms, each curious about the other yet unable to communicate satisfactorily with their partners. The boredom with each other is compounded by the boring uniformity of hotel rooms.

The second act whizzes through the remaining six sketches covering a reversed airline safety demonstration which has one passenger convulsed while his companions, inattentive and hidden behind their newspapers, miss the comedy. Pay attention next time!

Executives at a business conference struggle to applaud while juggling glass, plate, bag, papers and diary and a disembodied voice spouts office jargon. We also go back to the original dinner party with the host asleep at the table and, as the guests prepare to leave the whole party wakes up and becomes animated. Doesn’t that always happen!

The performers - Robert Daws, Belinda Lang, Aden Gillett and Serena Evans - execute the whole with perfect, slick timing, impeccable accents, and enough facial expressions and body language to almost render the dialogue superfluous.

The final sketch is the funniest, taking us back to the days before mobile phones, and if ever there was confirmation that they certainly have their uses, then this is it. A German tourist waits at Gatwick for the arranged meeting with his hosts while the husband traipses through every terminal at Heathrow and the wife waits at home to greet her visiting mother. Conversations between them all are conducted via ‘immobiles’ (landlines) and the answerphone resulting in total chaos and a visit to hospital by way of a very insalubrious pub.

There are plenty of laugh-out-loud moments, and the joke in each sketch is very funny and very true to life, but despite Joe Harmston keeping the action fast and furious and making full use of Simon Scullion’s sliding panels sets, there is really not enough substance to sustain the laughter and the comedy is stretched a little too thinly, but still it’s a very enjoyable evening.

John Thaxter reviewed this production at Richmond

Reviewer: Sheila Connor