Writer: Alan Ayckbourn
Director: Alan Ayckbourn
I have downloaded and processed all available data and have calculated that there is a 99.475% change that you will find much humour in the theatrical presentation identified as Constant Companions.
If the greeting above, brings a shiver to your spine because you remember it as being the voice of HAL (Heuristically Programmed Algorithmic Computer) 9000, the self-aware and very deadly computer from the 1968 film 2001 A Space Odyssey, then remember, you have been warned.
The very possible, and according to those who are in the know about these things, very probable, extinction level event caused by AI (Artificial Intelligence) when, not if, it perceives that the humans who created them are no longer needed is the premise of the 89th play written by and, in this case, directed by Alan Ayckbourn, and performed in the round at the Stephen Joseph Theatre in Scarborough.
The Stephen Joseph Theatre is a very modern and contemporarily designed theatre with an upscaled looking lobby, ample room in the cozy bar/lounge and extremely comfortable seats all of which have a good view of the smallish in-the-round stage.
In the round theatre is a unique way to watch a play as it brings some audience members close enough to the actors to touch them as well as being able to see a performance in an almost 3D visual style. It is like the cast, the family members or friends you actually don’t mind stopping by unannounced once in a while, have just popped into your living room and you’re watching the show from your favourite, comfy chair with people walking naturally in and out of the room and without the distraction of removers coming in and rearranging your furniture every 5 minutes. And just like any conversation you might have with someone else, it was occasionally hard to hear the actors when they were facing away from one side of the audience or speaking in hushed voices.
With all the action taking place in the middle of the theatre and in plan view of the audience at all times, it is a challenge to create the various locations of each scene of the play in the absence of any walls, doors and backdrops. Set designer, Kevin Jenkins, accomplished this by merely changing the type of flooring to indicate that the 3 separate, but interconnected, scenarios of the play take place in a bedroom, a corporate office and a loft. Simple, yet extremely effective as was the lighting, which was just enough, in just the right places and at just the right times.
One of the many high-quality attributes of any Alan Ayckbourn play is that the dialogue he creates is so realistic, authentic and appropriate the audience has no problem whatsoever relating to the characters and the events they are talking about. It also helps greatly that all the multitalented, and experienced actors in this production have great chemistry with each other and spot-on comic timing. This no doubt accounted for the large amounts of uninhibited laughs that each carefully crafted line they delivered solicited from the audience.
As the 2 hour and 35 minute (including interval) story moved along at a brisk pace without feeling the least bit rushed, and leaving the audience wanting more, your reviewer started to feel that there was something comfortably familiar about this production which is why it was so easy to watch and enjoy. Whether it was intentional or not, Constant Companions elicited momentary memories of some of the most popular and memorable old time classic British television programmes such as Red Dwarf, Only Fools and Horses and Are You Being Served. This was especially noted in the relationships that the characters had with each other. In the right hands, Constant Companions could easily become the next great British television sitcom.
If, or more accurately when, we humans get to the moment in our evolutionary history, a moment skilfully, humorously and thought provokingly brought to the stage by this production, where we create androids powered by advanced artificial intelligence who plot to hire solicitors to fight for their rights to be recognized as sentient members of our society, to have emotional and physical relationships with their human owners; or their human owners to have the same with them, and eventually end up suing their human partners for not being genetically perfect. All while foolishly thinking we humans are smart enough not to let this happen or that we could stop them if it does.
It would be wise for all of us to remember the words of HAL 9000, spoken in 1968, “I’m sorry Dave, but I can’t let you do that”.
Runs until 7th October 2023