DramaNorth East & YorkshireReview

Henceforward… – Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough

Writer: Alan Ayckbourn

Director: Alan Ayckbourn

Set Designer: Roger Glossop

Costume Designer: Rebecca Cartwright

Reviewer: Ron Simpson

Henceforward… has almost too many ideas for its own good – and they fit together somewhat uneasily at times. On its West End transfer in 1987, it won the Evening Standard Best Comedy Award. Yet, earlier in the year Alan Ayckbourn had planned to cancel its Scarborough premiere because it was too bleak – perhaps it’s the subsequent re-writing that causes the dislocation of tone. Oddly much of the most effective humour is farcical, depending on a malfunctioning robot.

The basic story is simple enough, despite its futuristic accompaniments and the challenging themes that surface constantly. Jerome is a composer who gains his inspiration from sampling sounds of people. His inspiration has dried up since his wife Corinna left him, taking with her their daughter, Geain, Jerome’s inspiration. His only companion is Nan, the prototype of a child-minding robot given him by a neighbour and imperfectly re-programmed for other tasks.

In order to gain access to Geain, Jerome is to meet Corinna in the company of Mervyn from the Department of Child Wellbeingand to impress them with his respectability, he tries to hire Zoe to act the part of his fiancée. The over-long first half is mainly a mix of a job interview and exposition of the changed state of the world, plus Jerome’s problems, needs and methods. When Zoe turns down the role, Jerome programmes Nan to take on the part and Act 2 follows the bizarre developments and character shifts that follow when Corinnna, Mervyn and Geain come to call.

The underlying premise is bleak indeed. Set “sometime quite soon”, the play depicts a London with vast no-go areas. Jerome’s studio flat is comparatively safe only because of its iron-clad protection and the fact that he has reached some kind of rapprochement with the Daughters of Darkness who rule the area: when Zoe arrives battered and bleeding, he is horrified that she walked from the station.

What of technology? Visual telephones (video by Paul Stear) are good value for entertainment in Roger Glossop’s electronics-drenched set where the most important elements are the mixers, samplers and keyboards. Ayckbourn’s predictions have turned out to be pretty accurate: Mervyn’s multiple telephones going off in every pocket is positively prophetic, Jerome’s microphones throughout the apartment picking up sounds for future creation anticipate the surveillance society, Jerome’s sampling and the technology to do it are no longer outlandish.

However, the most significant feature is that it is, in Ayckbourn’s words, “…a play about the creative process. And how dangerous it can be.” Jerome, in the end, is more interested in writing the perfect piece of music about love than he is in love itself.

An evening full of stimulating ideas and talking points somehow lacks the flow, finesse and ability to make the monstrous normal that characterise the best of Ayckbourn. Bill Champion brings immense, often understated conviction to the part of the anti-social obsessive Jerome, but Laura Matthews goes rather over the top as Zoe, though she is delightful in the second act as Nan-as-Zoe. Jacqueline King doubles as the Act 1 Nan, all breakages and collisions, and the initially self-composed Corinna, and Russell Dixon bumbles and blusters and speechifies entertainingly as Mervyn.

Runs until 8 October 2016 | Image: Tony Bartholomew/Turnstone Media

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The Yorkshire & North East team is under the editorship of Mark Clegg. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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