*Alarms and Excursions* (Theatre Royal, Brighton)

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Victorian novelist Charles Dickens once wrote, “Electric communication will never be a substitute for the face of someone who with their soul encourages another person to be brave and true.” All these years later, the problems caused by all manner of modern communication gadgets - and the failure of humans to relate properly to one another - is at the heart of a new touring production of *Alarms and Excursions.*

Michael Frayn’s 1998 comedy of technological errors is actually a compendium of eight short plays performed by four actors and it’s not unlike visiting a sushi bar: a few tasty dishes on a conveyor belt that goes round and round with the same morsels cropping up again and again. Happily, just when you start to feel a sense of overkill on the initial premise, the playlet or mood changes.

Audiences expecting the skilful out and out farce of Noises Off have to be content with the more subtle swipe of the writer’s pen here, as Frayn examines the all too familiar nuisance of malfunctioning modern technology and the embarrassing social dilemmas caused by human inability to relate, even by means of a common language.

Proving that progress comes at a price the short plays and Footlights-style revue sketches (including new material added for this production) are sometimes rages against the machine, sometimes observations on humanity, but always comments on the nature of communication and the versatile and ever-dependable cast of four (Robert Daws, Belinda Lang, Aden Gillett and Serena Evans) give tour de force performances, with slick direction by Joe Harmston.

The opening and slightly longer offering - Alarms - is perhaps the most effective, as the two married couples have their social evening ruined by malfunctioning gadgets and gizmos, and it sets the scene for what is to follow. Interesting that among the more pleasing offerings were the scenes showing wordless reactions to situations - especially the employees at a company dinner, having to ‘multitask’ during the speech. The closing Immobiles - with four characters having to communicate unsuccessfully via traditional payphones and an answering machine - is a mini masterpiece.

As might be expected with eight plays in one, some are funnier than others though the belly laughs of the audience in rueful recognition of some of the scenarios and the more farcical elements may well mean that the message on the broader canvas was lost, which is ironic in itself.

David Guest