You can be the geekiest of geeks and the nerdiest of nerds, but still be wrong-fingered by the latest technological update. You might be the most blasé of holidaymakers or the most sophisticated of dinner-party hosts, but still be wrong-footed by the straightforwardly unexpected. Michael Frayn’s eight short plays, first staged in 1998, explore these aspects of progress’s relentless march.
What goes wrong as Alarms & Excursions whisks us from one farcical disaster zone to the next? Absolutely everything, is the reply – and it’s one which left the Cambridge audience shouting for more at the curtain calls. Remote controls, timers and multiple handsets bedevil the two couples hoping for a relaxed dinner party in Doubles and Leavings. Identikit hotel bedrooms turn another pair of couples’ holiday into a hell-break.
Corporate get-togethers leave the three executives in Toasters wishing that they had more hands (if not mouths). Look Away Now turns the concept of safety instructions for passengers on its (admittedly not always logical) head. Pig in the Middle and Finishing Touches play games with male and female roles, while Immobiles reminds us of that really-not-so-distant past before everyone had at least one mobile phone.
Joe Harmston’s production swirls his four players on and off stage within a deceptively simple flexible set by Simon Scullion. The drop curtain resembles a television test screen and Matthew Bugg has orchestrated an electronic score of bleeps and burps which adds to the hilarity and becomes a character in its own right.
As the wives who are so much the bosses of their husbands and other menfolk, Belinda Lang and Serena Evans spin vocal and visual tricks in bewildering array. Robert Daws andAden Gillett are the would-be masters who are so much at the service of what they know they should understand instinctively, but can’t quite sort out for themselves. The comic timing of all four is impeccable – ensemble acting at its best.