Tag Archives: JB Priestley

Communicating Doors

reviewed at the Southwold Arts Centre on 5 July

Alan Ayckbourn’s Communicating Doors is on one level a farce with sociological bite, as expected from the modern master of that genre. On another, it plays with the notion of time, much as did JB Priestley in dramas such as Time and the Conways, Dangerous Corner and An Inspector Calls.

The action takes place in suite 647 of a London hotel owned by ruthless business-man Reece (James Morley) with his equally ferocious second-in-command Julian (Michael Shaw). We begin in 2037 with the arrival of a dominatrix called Poopay (real name Pheobe) played by Melissa Clements; her attentions are in response to Reece’s last wishes.

It transpires that both Reece’s wives have met untimely ends, first Jessica (Rosanna Miles) and then Ruella (Claire Jeater). In both cases Julian appears to have been the hit-man and he has no compunction about serving Poopay in the same way. Her escape through a door into a cupboard takes her into the same suite but, at different times, in 2017 and 1997.

Mark Sterling’s production keeps up a lively pace with the audience at times hard-pressed to follow at the same speed. Tory Cobb’s set and Miri Birch’s costumes work well in this context, as does the clever use of lighting (including laser shapes to indicate time changes) and shadow-play.

The cast brings commitment and a good understanding of both Ayckbourn’s words and the characters they define. Clements offers a rounded portrait of the girl from a children’s home who grits her teeth and gets on with earning a living. Miles and Jeater differentiate the two wives and the way their personalities develop over 40 years.

Bumbling in and out of the action is hotel security-man Harold, who Bob Dobson makes likeable even as the women manipulate him. Shaw has the lion’s share of the nastiness, and relishes every nuance of it. Morley’s role is in many ways a more difficult one, but his last scene with Pheobe has real heart.

Four star rating.

Communicating Doors runs at the Southwold Arts Centre as the opening production in the Suffolk Summer Theatres season until 15 July with matinées on 8, 13 and 15 July. It transfers to the Jubilee Hall, Aldeburgh between 20 and 29 July with matinées on 22 and 29 July.

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Filed under Plays, Reviews 2017

An Inspector Calls

(reviewed at the Arts Theatre, Cambridge on 6 October)

That JB Priestley’s 70-year old play An Inspector Calls is now on its 25th national tour is a tribute to director Stephen Daldry’s now iconic production of 1992. Daldry has kept a firm, occasionally revisionist, eye of these re-cast productions, and the effect is as taut and mind-provoking as first time round.

Ian MacNeil’s set – that doll’s house cage teetering at an impossible angle above rain-washed cobblestones and wartime débris, too small to house its Edwardian occupants with all their pretensions and complacency – still rivets the audience’s attention as the curtain (itself part of the action) rises. Reality has clashed with abstraction visually, just as it does in the script. The discordant sounds which punctuate the action add their own frisson.

Liam Brennan is something of an oddball Inspector Goole, though he holds one’s attention. Tim Woodward’s Arthur Birling, self-satisfaction in a starched shirt-front, and Caroline Wildi as his wife Sybil, a soft-spoken, hard-edged matron in glittering crimson are the Inspector’s first interrogatees. Matthew Douglas as Gerald Croft, whose engagement to the Birlings’ daughter Sheila is being celebrated as the play begins, takes the character away from jeune premier territory to interesting effect.

Sheila and her brother Eric contrast well in Katherine Jack and Hamish Riddle’s characterisations. Katherine Jack manages to win understanding – for Sheila’s selfishness and the girlish petulance which contributed to Eve Smith’s grim end – and final sympathy for her acceptance of that responsibility. The trouble with Hamish Riddle is that his Eric starts on too high – one might even say, hysterical – a note, so that his final outburst with its alcohol-fuelled maudlin self-pity has no platform on which to build.

An Inspector Calls is at the Arts Theatre, Cambridge until 10 October. It also plays at the Theatre Royal, Norwich (1-5 December) and the Milton Keynes Theatre (23-27 February).

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Filed under Plays, Reviews 2015