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 connected.
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.
Opposite 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.