Communicating Doors, Menier Chocolate Factory, review: creaks like a rusty hinge

Imogen Stubbs and Rachel Tucker star in Alan Ayckbourn's comedy

Holly Williams
Friday 15 May 2015 18:21
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Rachel Tucker and Imogen-Stubbs by Manuel Harlan
Rachel Tucker and Imogen-Stubbs by Manuel Harlan

What’s really behind those communicating doors in hotel rooms? Alan Ayckbourn’s answer in this ‘comic thriller’ is: a timewarp. A literally revolving, magical doorway leads three women from three different decades, all involved with a businessman and his sinister, murderous partner, to move through each other’s lives and hotel rooms, altering the course of their personal histories. The play has a pleasing sci-fi structure, but the writing creaks like a rusty hinge.

First staged in 1994, it’s woefully dated. In the programme notes, Ayckbourn may claim Communicating Doors is about ‘strong women’ - but first they’re mocked for being dim, slaggy or posh. There are jokes that would be crass, if they weren’t so tired, about threesomes and lesbians, and while the play seems to be set in a camply consequence-free world of flinging people off balconies, the tart-with-a-heart must be schmaltzily redeemed.

Lindsay Posner’s production could also do with picking up the pace, especially in the first half. Even with all those doors, it doesn’t quite hit the slamming rhythm of a farce, but the low-stakes jollity of it means thrilling is hardly the word either.

The cast make a good fist of it; Imogen Stubbs as a jolly-hockey-sticks, all-girls-together wife makes it work through a combination of frothy energy and precise focus. Lucy Briggs-Owen, wide-eyed and open-mouthed in disbelief then trilling and fluting as an eccentric aristo, is excessive in every word and gesture, yet pulls it all off gorgeously. I could watch her all night, even in this nonsense.

To 27 Jun; menierchocolatefactory.com

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