Communicating Doors, Criterion Theatre, Earlsdon, until July 1.
There are doors everywhere. Five are obvious. Then you notice the bathroom cabinet. Oh yes, and the glass door leading to a balcony off the hotel room where the action is set over a period of 40 years.
One of those doors revolves at regular intervals to transport two of the women in the cast through a time-space continuum spanning the years between 2021, 2001 and 1981. As a result, yet more doors spin into view.
Doors have been a time-honoured prop of theatrical farce and Alan Ayckbourn has long been a master of the dark farce.
It’s fair to say that darkness is more evident than rib-tickling humour in the first half. “Norra lorra laughs,” as Cilla might have put it – although I rather liked the fact that dodgy businessman Reece Wells keeps the confession that he has hired a hooker to sign hidden in the bidet. “Who the hell uses these things?” he shrugs.
The hooker in question is a somewhat vulnerable dominatrix who goes under the name of Poopay.
“You’ve been a very naughty boy,” is her standard line of introduction. In this case, however, “naughty” is something of an understatement. Reece has apparently had two of his wives murdered. One of them, it seems, was propelled through that glass door and shoved off the balcony by his sinister henchman Julian Goodman – an inappropriate surname if ever there was one.
Neil Vallance plays Julian with a world-weariness undercut by a menacing vindictiveness. And Georgia Kelly touchingly captures not only Poopay’s vulnerability but also her instinct for survival against the odds. Somehow she slips out of Julian’s clutches and spins through the revolving door, travelling back in time to warn the wives of their impending fate.
Time travel enables Ayckbourn to speculate on the possibilities of human beings making different life choices given a second chance.
And, as so often with him, it is the female characters who show the way in that regard.
There are far more laughs in the second half, helped by Pete Meredith’s performance as Harold, the hotel security man. Having aged 20 years at one point, he appears sporting a ‘comb-over’ worthy of Bobby Charlton in his prime.
Karen Evans as Reece’s first wife Jessica and Cathryn Bowler as her replacement, Ruella, gleefully throw themselves into a balcony scene that triumphantly transforms tragedy into farce. As the darkness recedes, laughter levels surge.
This is not the easiest of Ayckbourn’s many plays. But the Criterion rises to the challenge, as usual, under John Ruscoe’s direction and a clever set design by Simon Sharpe. Doors galore, of course, with the possibilities that they offer to walk through the right one at the
Pictured: Pete Meredith as Harold and Georgia Kelly as Poopay.