Greenwich to revive Michael Frayn’s Alarms And Excursions

After working through the many options for our spring 2022 production, we have finally landed on a comedy by Michael Frayn – Alarms and Excursions.

An evening of eight short plays, one of the recurring themes at the heart of the collection is our relationship with, and our ever increasing reliance upon, modern technology.

The first piece presents us with an intimate dinner party, two couples coming together for a relaxing evening of food and wine, but when something starts beeping, and something else starts buzzing, and nobody can work out what they are, their idyllic evening starts to unravel.

Nobody can work the phone system that the host has installed, nobody can stop the beeping, and when the car alarm gets involved their plans seemed doomed.

Alarms and Excursions was written in 1998, almost 25 years ago and around the time I first owned a mobile phone.

Michael Frayn

Working in my first theatre job, only one computer in the office was connected to the internet, proofs of anything printed were sent in the post, all ticket sales were recorded on paper with a large manual seating plan for each night’s performance, and the fax machine was god when it came to instant communication.

On paper, technology has moved on to such an astonishing degree in the last quarter of a century that a comedy about people’s inability to use or understand their gadgets shouldn’t still be funny – but my attempts at setting up a new mobile phone last week proved to me that actually, while our devices may have changed, the degree to which we rely on them, and trust them out of hand, is no different 25 years on.

When my phone asked me to “Place your new handset next to your old one” (or words to that effect), I did it.

I don’t understand why that worked – if it had said “Place your old phone in the bathroom and go to the bottom of the garden” I would probably have done that too.

And the low level sense of panic that starts to set in when the contact list seems empty or emails don’t seem to be working just proves that we still place our blind trust in these allegedly labour saving tools.

Another highlight of the evening, which shows the kind of virtuoso writing that has made Frayn’s Noises Off one of the most consistently performed plays by a living English writer, sees two couples arriving in adjacent hotel rooms, unaware of each other but both visible to the audience.

As they settle in and muse on the state of the hotel, and their own lives, the two conversations mesh seamlessly to create a whole new sense for the audience.

And then they begin to hear snatches of each other’s conversations and the jigsaw becomes even funnier.

For all of its commentary on modern life, at its heart Frayn’s series of short plays is a hilarious comedy.

For me, as we all come to accept the “two steps forward, one step back” progress of the pandemic, that is exactly what we are all going to need this spring.

 


 

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