ALARMS & EXCURSIONS at Greenwich Theatre
Updated: Feb 18
It was a brave choice for Greenwich Theatre to take on Alarms & Excursions, Michael Frayn’s comedy about our ever-growing reliance on machines. Those of us of a certain age remember all too well the often traumatic irruption of technology into our lives. Younger people, though, might well wonder what all the fuss is about and ask: “What the hell is a payphone anyway?”
Such is the pace of innovation that in the 20-odd years since Frayn penned this collection of eight playlets they have dated disproportionately. Fortunately, however, the dazzling quality of the writing coupled with fine performances by a quartet of actors means there is much to enjoy for even the most cynical millennial.
And on the night I saw the play, there was an added bonus for anyone convinced we are being enslaved by the microchip – the theatre was racked with tech-trouble that sparked two long delays and forced director James Haddrell to drop one of the pieces.
Undaunted, the cast pressed on and, despite outbreaks of feedback and the continual threat of gremlin interference, succeeded in keeping the action flowing with barely a hiccup. Each of them deserved an award for heroism.
The evening kicked off 30 minutes late with a piece called Alarms in which Shereener Browne, Dan Gaisford, Lauren Drennan and David Hubball played two couples at a dinner party that quickly spirals into chaos thanks to an increasingly bizarre invasion of beeps and buzzes, not to mention a psychopathic corkscrew, which culminates in a dash to A&E. It was beautifully paced.
Three upstage sketches in front of a curtain separated the longer pieces to allow the crew to change the scenery so that the evening didn’t feel too fragmented. The best of these was undoubtedly the mordantly funny Finishing Touches, about a couple driving themselves politely to distraction by completing each other’s sentences.
Meanwhile, Doubles featured a clever split stage so that we could watch two couples in adjoining thin-walled hotel rooms discuss one another, the wives becoming exasperated by their partners’ ludicrous macho posturing as the men sought to boost their own fragile egos by sarcastically impugning their fellow husbands. It led neatly into Leavings, which took us back to the earlier dinner party from hell to relish yet more delightfully excruciating comedy of embarrassment.
The final piece of the night, Immobiles, was the most dated, an extended slapstick sketch about payphones in which a desperate couple battled and, of course, failed to pick up a visiting German friend at the airport while also awaiting the arrival of the wife’s mother. It was frantic fun but would baffle anyone for whom texts are the go-to form of day-to-day communication.
The evening must have been a nightmare for sound designer Matthew Giles and his crew. But despite the problems they kept the show going and an admirably patient audience were treated to a demonstration of superb professionalism by the excellent cast. I can’t praise them too highly – and can only hope that the tutelary spirits of the theatre smile down on the rest of the run.
Alarms & Excursions is playing till 19 February and then returns in March from the 9th to the 26th. Full details and tickets at https://greenwichtheatre.org.uk/events/alarms-and-excursions/