In which Sir Alan Ayckbourn finds a Tardis in a hotel room where the tea-making facilities should be.
Strange one this. Communicating Doors is a “comic thriller” set in a hotel suite with a cutaway to the bathroom. It’s not often you see what the back of a bidet looks like, let alone find a broom cupboard that revolves and also turns out to be a time portal.
We’re in the dystopian future of 2020. A dying man Reece – played by the appropriately named Robert Portal – has enlisted the services of a lady of the night (Rachel Tucker, who has played Elphaba in Wicked for longer than any other person in the production’s history, poor love). Whether the specialist services she offers live up (or down) to her name, Poopay (yuk) are not made apparent. She appears to be offering Miss Whiplash-style services, but Reece wants something else from her which involves fishing around in the aforementioned bathroom appliance. Poo pay indeed. To say too much more would spoil the surprises ahead, except to say that the cupboard enables characters to travel back to the years 2000 and 1980 to try and prevent themselves meeting sticky ends.
Imogen Stubbs and Lucy Briggs-Owen play Reece’s ex wives with splendidly archetypal Ayckbourn no-nonsenseness and dimwittedness respectively. The latter is particularly hilarious as an older version of herself. Tucker plays the confused tart-with-a-heart-and-bag-full-of-“toys” splendidly and Matthew Cottle is a similarly discombobulated security man. The wonderful David Bamber, as Julian, Reece’s psychopathic best friend, puts on a fantastically Pinteresque display of menace and at one point a wig that is almost as red as his face. The wigs come from Wig-Maestro Richard Mawbey and are otherwise as brilliantly convincing as you’d expect. Mr Bamber will no doubt be offered a slew of Pinter parts after this, poor love.
It’s more can-they-prevent-it? than whodunnit as we switch to and fro between the identical hotel rooms over the three time periods watching the three very different women unite to save themselves. It’s intermittently funny and occasionally tense with more than a nod to Hitchcock. It also comes with a big make-the-audience-jump moment. Phil would have scattered his Maltesers if he’d thought to bring some.
We were also treated to a stagehand coming on just before the play began, staring intently at the sofa and moving it barely a centimetre. The sofa does feature fairly significantly, yet this left us even more puzzled than trying to keep up with some of the time-travel complexities of the situation.
At two and a half hours Lindsay Posner‘s production is a little overlong (we saw a preview so it may speed up) but the farcical situations that arise from the set up are cleverly worked out with the same exacting logic of say, Groundhog Day. If you can accept the basic premise it’s best not to question why they believe there’s only room for one at a time in the time machine when it’s clearly big enough for more, why there’s no Corby trouser press, or why the hotel room never receives refurbishment over the 40-year time span. Even the phone never gets modernised.
The future may be dystopian. It’s certainly not orange.