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surprises – Minerva Theatre, Chichester

Writer and Director: Alan Ayckbourn

Reviewer: Ann Bawtree



Set sometime in the fairly distant future and, in the second and third acts, some fifty and sixty years later, the story begins with the age old problem of a father not wanting his precious daughter to throw herself away on a worthless suitor. This simple enough plot is complicated by the possibility of time-travel, which is in the process of development. The to-ing and fro-ing through the decades in order to prevent someone from doing something (or to make sure that they do) plus a willingness to accept the impossible, requires a degree of concentration from the audience which can be quite tiring.

The daughter in question, Grace, played by Ayesha Antoine, is an exasperating teenager, caught in the limbo between childhood and womanhood, and Bill Champion plays her duly exasperated father, Franklin, a wealthy businessman. All is very normal until she is visited by her young suitor in the form he will attain fifty years hence.

In Act II that is where we are, fifty years hence. In Franklin’s offices, with his lawyer, the despotic but unhappy Lorraine (Sarah Parks) and her “Celebrity Chef” husband Conrad, (Ben Porter) who also plays Titus, the adult version of Tim, Grace’s boyfriend.

Lorraine’s staff include the human Sylvia (Laura Doddington) her secretary and Jan, the android security and maintenance android, played by Richard Stacey whose performance was truly remarkable. There is a theory held by many women that all men feature somewhere on the autism scale and his sympathetic and loveable characterisation virtually proves it.

Played in the round in the futuristic sets of designer Michael Holt, the play is, unusually for these times, in three acts. The advantage of this is that the two intervals give the audience a chance to digest what they have seen. By the end of Act III two marriages are over, androids have become nearly human and human beings, with technical assistance, have become nearly android and everyone lives happily ever after. Other parts, and there are seven of them, are, as they say, played by members of the cast and several disembodied voices.

A complicated play, which probably needs seeing at least twice in order to follow the details of the story, its main message is that however attractive time travel may seem, it is really better to keep future events as “surprises”.

Runs until 8 September at the Minerva Theatre, Chichester and then from 11 September – 13 October at the Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough


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