If you’ve never watched an episode of
Dr. Who then describing Alan Ayckbourn’s
Surprises as full of wibbley-wobbly, timey-wimey
stuff won’t make sense. But in essence that’s what it is about –
time travel, futuristic mobile phones, space holidays, virtual
reality dating and an amorous android. But at its core this is a play
all about human loneliness in a world where we’ve never been so
Set “sometime soon” the plot
revolves around wealthy businessman Franklin’s decision to fund his
daughter Graces’s boyfriend’s research into time travel as a way
of paying him off to stay away from his precious offspring. This
leads on to knock-on effects for his lawyer Lorraine, her assistant
Sylvia and the office maintenance android Jan.
The dialogue is pithy
and much more down to earth than the plot suggests, but with the
characters in a near immortal state the action lacks drive and risk.
Michael Holt’s design integrates the fantastical (time travel,
holograms) with the everyday to make a surprisingly realistic
backdrop to the action.
Sarah Parks plays lawyer Lorraine as
a hard-as-nails ball buster, not dissimilar to Dragons'
Den’s Hilary Devey, but the eventual emergence of her
vulnerability in the face of unconditional love draws the audience
in. As the object of her affections android Jan, Richard Stacey is
clear and consistent providing hilarious comic timing.
Franklin (played by Bill Champion) Jan’s observations on female
nature are told like punch lines from Christmas cracker jokes;
slightly off-beat but rib-ticklingly funny. Laura Doddington gives
a touching performance as the eternal single girl Sylvia and her
loneliness is achingly relatable.
Ayckbourn brings domestic life into the
22nd century and thankfully ensures that it’s full of
human emotion and drama.