Chris Eldon Lee reviews ‘Henceforward’ and ‘Alan Ayckbourn’s Karaoke Theatre Company’, which are in repertoire at the New Vic Theatre in Newcastle Under Lyme until Saturday 29th October
‘Henceforward’ has to be my most favourite of Alan Ayckbourn’s dark plays. Written 40 years ago, it was set slightly into a future that has now arrived. As he predicted, Fax machines are largely obsolete and mob gangs have ruled our city streets.
In his well-defended eerie in central London, clapped-out composer Jerome hasn’t been able to write a note since his wife left him, taking the daughter who is his ‘muse’ with her. He tries to hire an actress called Zoe to pretend to be his new partner so he might win a degree of custody of his child once again. But when he records Zoe making love to him for a potential hit single, she gets the huff.
The vivacious but scatty young coquette is played with exciting effervescence by Laura Matthews whose performance has star quality written all over it. By complete contrast, Bill Champion’s Jerome is down beat and all washed up. Together they hold complete sway over the first half of the play, engaged in competitive conversations riddled with misconceptions. The only interruption comes from NAN 330F; a dodgy, unreliable, child-minding robot that Jerome has fashioned after his departed wife.
Ayckbourn’s stunning idea in this play happens in the interval when Jerome re-shapes the android to look like Zoe. So both female actors get to play unstable robotic versions of their own characters…to fabulous effect. Inevitably, the whole deception descends into a furious farce.
The depth of the play lies in Jerome’s futile attempts to create a piece of music to express the emotion of true ‘love’ … much needed in a cold, technological society. If only we can cling on to our humanity, he reckons, all might not be lost. But how do you compose that? .
The most magical moment is Zoe’s long drawn out facial expression as it dawns on her that every nuance of last night’s orgasm has been musically exploited. In 2001, 15 years after the play was premiered, a DJ appealed to a Sky TV agony aunt slot complaining that he’d lost his girlfriend because he’d sampled their sex sessions for his art. Funny that.
Henceforward is in repertoire with this year’s Scarborough creation which is infinitely inferior and inconsequential. It’s not clear how much involvement The Master had in ‘Alan Ayckbourn’s Karaoke Theatre Company’. Little, I hope, because they present an unsatisfying, cliché-ridden confection of melodrama, Nordic Noir and costume drama. The audience does the sound effects (I personally played a bed spring) and gradually encroach further into the evening. We also got some of the best laughs…and there were plenty of those.
But it’s all a bit obvious. Think ‘Game For A Laugh’, ‘Butlins’ and ‘Crackjack’ and you get the level. It’s not a night for students of Ayckbourn’s craft. But if you insist on going … do avoid sitting next to the thunder machine.
Photo : Tony Bartholomew
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