by Alan Ayckbourn
at the Yvonne Arnaud Theatre, Guildford
Here is Alan Ayckbourn, always thought provoking and witty, at his darkest and most inventive. I thoroughly enjoyed the evening.
It’s a dark scenario: in the near future, in an attic sound-studio somewhere in a city, a creatively-blocked composer broods and schemes to change his life and get back his creative energy. Outside, civil order has been replaced by gang warfare and indiscriminate violence against individual citizens.
The tussle between Jerome’s need to create a definitive piece of music, and his need to use every significant experience in his life as raw material for his art, is made concrete here. He has listening devices in every room in his flat, recording his family’s and guests’ voices, as he searches for the sounds that will bring his music to life. Not a recipe for relaxed relationships, as he has discovered, but that doesn’t deter him. As Alan Ayckbourn himself writes:
“Jerome steals bits of people and really doesn’t even care at all … completely shameless …”
The first version of the play was shelved because Heather Stoney, now his wife, was horrified by the uniformly negative message it carried. Rewriting it to be staged in 1987, Ayckbourn introduced the theme of ‘love’ and a new dimension entered the play.
The star of the show is a most engaging robot, programmed by Jerome to speak phrases from his recordings when triggered by real human voices. The female robot, with suggestions of “The Stepford Wives” in her behaviour and relationship to Jerome, is a wonderful piece of Ayckbourn fantasy and the source of a great deal of comic business and irony.
The question of the value of being human as opposed to being a machine,is another theme that "Henceforward" approaches, with a cynicism that belongs more to the character of Jerome than to his creator, I would guess from Alan Ayckbourne's programme note. And the business of being an actor, too - how much does Zoë feel fit for any role in life? "It depends on the script, dear," she trills.
The cast are faultless, to a man, woman and robot, with Laura Matthews and Jacqueline King turning in exceptional performances. The synthesised music, composed by the author/director himself, is an impressive part of the production. Alan Ayckbourn’s direction brings out in the production all the edgy farce, black comedy and menace in his play.
It’s a classic Ayckbourn, not to be missed.
"Henceforward" is at the Yvonne Arnaud Theatre, Guildford, until 28th January 2017
A slightly shorter version of this review will appear in the Theatre section of Essential Surrey magazine later this week.