Communicating Doors

Theatre, Off-West End
3 out of 5 stars
 (© Manuel Harlan)
1/4
© Manuel HarlanDavid Bamber (Julian) and Rachel Tucker (Poopay)
 (© Manuel Harlan)
2/4
© Manuel HarlanDavid Bamber (Julian) and Rachel Tucker (Poopay)
 (© Manuel Harlan)
3/4
© Manuel HarlanImogen Stubbs (Ruella), Rachel Tucker (Poopay)
 (© Manuel Harlan)
4/4
© Manuel HarlanRachel Tucker (Poopay), Imogen Stubbs (Ruella)

Time travelling dominatrixes a gogo in this outlandishly silly comedy

Prolific playwright Alan Ayckbourn is good at making the batshit crazy feel fairly normal. His many plays have featured robots, people who’ve had their heads attached to the wrong bodies, a family living on a double decker bus and a show that takes place on an actual boat that has to be floated in the theatre on actual water. ‘Communicating Doors’, from 1994, is one of his wackier works: it’s a murderous thriller-comedy set in hotel room… which just so happens to be a portal to the past.

Unlikelihood of a time-travelling hotel room aside, the play takes place in a world that in every other way is exactly like our own. When dominatrix Poopay (Rachel Tucker) arrives at rich old man Reece’s plush hotel suite, it turns out he only really wants her for her signature. After a lifetime of ills – including turning a blind eye to the murder of his two wives by business partner Julian – Reece wants her to witness his confession. When nasty Julian tries to kill Poopay, she escapes into a connecting door  which takes her back 20 years to the same suite where Reece’s second wife Ruella happens to be hanging out. Together they hatch a plan to try to alter the future (or maybe that should be the past). With me still?

Yes, it’s complicated. But Ayckbourn’s skill at creating a taut plot out of a completely outlandish narrative is to the fore in ‘Communicating Doors’, and we’re with him from the first time-hop to the slightly sentimental finale. Ultimately, the play is a neat case for second chances. And though the fact that Poopay is ‘saved’ by some exceptionally wealthy benefactors feels condescending, and the arguments about women’s moralising influence on men horribly simplistic, the show ultimately delivers some fun gags.

Lindsay Posner’s immaculately staged, well-timed production is great, lead by an excellent Imogen Stubbs as Ruella the second wife. Stubbs bounces around the stage with great comic brio, her Ruella a no-nonsense women-in-charge. There’s strong work too from the supporting cast, including a hilariously caricatured turn from Lucy Briggs-Owen as the ditsy first wife Jessica. It’s a revival with much going for it, as long as you’re happy entirely ignoring the laws of physics.

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