Review: Communicating Doors at the Menier Chocolate Factory

Over the years, prolific playwright Alan Ayckbourn has produced many works exploring the angst and trivialities of the British middle class. He often does this in a highly inventive way, working with intriguing concepts and combining genres to create entirely unique work. Communicating Doors is a perfect example.

Communicating Doors

Written in 1994, the play can best be described as a comic thriller with a sci-fi twist. As confusing as that sounds, it’s actually a subtle and surprisingly warm-hearted revival, directed brilliantly by Lindsay Posner.

In the year 2020, Reece, a dying businessman (Robert Portal), hires dominatrix Poopay (Rachel Tucker) and invites her to his hotel suite. Once there, he asks her to witness his written confession that he murdered both his first and second wives, or rather, he got his sinister business partner Julian (David Bamber) to do the dirty work for him.

After a struggle, Reece collapses and Julian comes after Poopay. She runs through a connecting door and suddenly finds herself in the year 2000. In this time, the same suite is being occupied by Ruella (Imogen Stubbs), Reece’s doomed second wife. Ruella in turn uses the connecting door, but instead of going forward to the present, she travels back 20 years to 1980 where she finds Reece’s first wife Jessica (Lucy Briggs-Owen). Eventually the three women join forces to try and defeat Julian and avoid their untimely deaths.

It’s a real credit to Ayckbourn’s skill as a playwright that the hare-brained structure doesn’t leave the audience completely confused by the end of the play. Despite the complex narrative (in some places it’s easier to stop trying to understand and just accept it) everything is displayed so clearly that somehow you do understand even though you don’t really know how you understand.

Similarly, the fact that Ayckbourn can pull off a concept this complicated using only (technically) one set and six characters again shows his skill at the craft. From this point of view it’s surprisingly simple, but definitely effective.

Small cast

The cast were also excellent. Due to the small cast, the main characters had long, extended periods on stage yet they all managed to stay perfectly in character throughout. They really brought the characters to life. There was no particular stand-out performance as they all bounced off each other’s energy, working together as a team to present the play to the audience. Having said that, arguably the best character was Harold (Matthew Cottle) – the bemused jobsworth of a porter. Cottle gave a flawless portrayal, and the comedy character helped to lighten the tone of the piece. Despite all the ridiculous things he came out with, you couldn’t help but feel sorry for him, and it’s always important to have a character like that in a play like this.

Also, the Menier Chocolate Factory is the ideal location for this play. It’s a tiny theatre with a capacity of only 150, which provides a highly intimate setting. Although the theatre may be small, it’s a credit to the production team that the play is still of such a high quality. The setting of the former chocolate factory adds to the atmosphere. It’s a characterful building, especially with the retention of the original exposed wooden beams, cast-iron columns and brick interior. This all creates a perfect background for drama before the play even begins.

The varied genres of comedy, thriller and sci-fi all combine perfectly in Communicating Doors. It’s funny and entertaining, but with enough drama and suspense to keep you on the edge of your seat. Ayckbourn’s excellent writing means you’re fully invested in both the plot and the characters, and all in all it’s a great example of how crossing genre boundaries can prove to be a resounding success.

If you get the chance, Communicating Doors is definitely worth seeing before the limited run ends on 27th June.

Have you seen Communicating Doors? What did you think? Let us know in the comments below.