Wednesday, 10 June 2009

Alphabetical Order - Richmond Theatre

Alphabetical Order by Michael Frayn
Director: Christopher Luscombe
Reviewer: Anne Bawtree

The principal player in this work is the set, by designer Janet Bird. She gives us the last place on earth anyone would want to work. The semi basement room with its dirty skylights, garish paintwork, the disorder, even to the piece of tinsel left over from at least one Christmas ago and possibly ten. Harsh lighting, by Tim Mitchell and the clattering typewriters of sound man Fergus O’Hare complete the effect of dreariness. The clanking of the metal door of the lift emphasises the feeling of imprisonment, and untidy? That is hardly the word for it.

The characters also would be the least congenial one could wish for in work colleagues. They range from the blindly over-optimistic Geoffrey (Ian Talbot) through the monosyllabic Arnold (Gawn Grainger) the pseudo-philosophical John (Jonathan Guy Lewis) the irresponsible Lucy (Imogen Stubbs) and the predatory Nora (Penelope Beaumont) to the Tigger-ish Wally (Michael Garner). Only someone with the four inch armour-plated psyche of Chloe Newsome’s Lesley could have suffered them for the six month’s duration of the play’s action.

The author is quoted in the programme notes as saying “What you see in Alphabetical Order is a compendium of the various other libraries I got to know”. Thank goodness it did not really all happen in one place. He is referring to his time as a journalist in the fifties and six
ties which entailed many a visit to local newspaper cuttings libraries. Although the play is set in 1975, as accurately depicted by the costume department, probably nothing much had changed. The chaos had just grown. Maybe now the mess is actually still present but is hidden in the inner workings of computers.

In Act II the set again is the star turn, eliciting gasps of admiration from the audience and even a few cheers. The stage manager Mike Powell Jones must have a
team of miracle workers.

The play’s theme of imposing order on chaos centres mainly around the hippy-ish Lucy and the mousie librarian, Lesley. Michael Frayn notes that when the play first opened in 1970, in the heady days of Flower Power, most people identified with Lucy. It is quite possible that balance has now changed in favour of Lesley. In fact it is hard to empathise with any of the characters as they are all quite dreadful, which only goes to prove the talent of the actors. The ones who deserve a sympathy vote are the cleaners, who receive a brief mention at the beginning of Act I.

Alphabetical Order runs at the Richomd Theatre until Sat 13th June

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