>ALARMS AND EXCURSIONS by The Stage Club

>reviewed by matthew lyon

>date: 27 sep 2000
>time: 8pm
>venue: the drama centre
>rating: ***

>tired already? go home then
>review junkie? whitney, give them this click to sniff

                           
>look, we know that you need to know that we, as responsible reviewers, have some quantifiable categories to rate productions, and are not just relying on some undefinable instinct or gut feeling. So to put your mind at ease, we will give you a logical rating system based on the practitioner's vision / and the reviewer's response of a particular production. Here it is then: ***** : Transcendent / Rapturous. ****: Crystal / Appreciative. ***: Transmitted / Thoughtful. **:Vague / Unsatisfied. * : Uncommunicated / Mystified. Yet in the end, you will feel that this is (1) a cheap attempt to justify the subjective arbitrariness of our rating system (2) buttressed by an interest in the logical (and inevitable) categorisation of such productions, which is (3) undermined by the cheapness of the attempt, and (4) confused by the creeping feeling you are getting that we are dead serious in our feeling that this rating system is an accurate description of the content, intent and quality of the production. Oh please -- does it even matter now? Look, at least we tried.
 

>>>>>BATTERIES NOT INCLUDED

The photocopier at work hates me. Of course, no one would believe this at first. I'm sure my colleagues all assumed that the frequent groaning noises issuing from the vicinity of said machine were just me being blur, but eventually, after several of them had witnessed the bloody thing trying to swallow my work and, more notably, my fingers, I did get some sympathy. One of the guys advised me to "treat her like a lady," but my new softer approach only resulted in a chewed-up transparency sheet and an unpleasant burning smell. So, watching ALARMS AND EXCURSIONS, it was nice to find out I'm not the only victim of vindictive technology. Yes, the characters here had it much harder than little old me: answering machines, autocues, smoke and car alarms and even hi-tech bottle openers were ganging up on them left, right and centre. And it was not only gadgets with batteries or plugs that entered the fray - the whole paraphernalia of modern life loomed ahead of them, awaiting their rather futile attempts to get past.

The performance was divided into eight uneven parts. Billed as "playlets", some were slight, single-joke affairs while some were almost one act plays. As well as being unequal in length, they were uneven in quality: although most were really quite funny, two scenes from the second half ('Doubles', about two couples staying in identikit hotel rooms and 'Glasnost', where a politician is betrayed by his autocue operator) were considerably longer than they needed to be. Fortunately, the comic excellence of the finale, 'Immobiles' (a German tourist falls victim to the Answering Machine) was able to get the audience laughing again.

>>'ALARMS AND EXCURSIONS intrinsically feels like a sketch show. The theme of man's dependence on unreliable technology is not pervasive enough to draw its respective parts into a cohesive whole'

In the original London production of the play, the numerous and diverse roles were all played by a cast of four: two men and two women. Here in Singapore, Director Nick Perry chose not to follow this route. Instead, he used a cast of eleven, and spread them out among the eight playlets with a little doubling-up of roles and so that some actors got more stage-time than others. Naturally this avoids the obvious pitfalls of over-stretching actors and allows them to concentrate on becoming specific characters. It is an understandable step to take, especially when dealing with an amateur company for whom rehearsals must give way to day jobs; but it had the unfortunate effect of rendering more disparate an already disparate play. ALARMS AND EXCURSIONS intrinsically feels like a sketch show. The theme of man's dependence on unreliable technology is not pervasive enough to draw its respective parts into a cohesive whole, and the decision to fracture its casting only exacerbated this problem. I can't help thinking that if Perry had restricted himself to the best four of his available actors, the evening would have seemed more robust and less rojak.

Having said this, Perry's eleven acquitted themselves well, with only a couple of its members succumbing to the temptation to overact. Of those who were good, Barry Woolhead should be complimented for his hilarious portrayal of the politest German tourist you've never seen and Maureen McConnell should be congratulated for a versatility which meant I didn't recognise her in the last of her three roles. Singling out performers in an ensemble piece such as this is, however, a finicky thing to do, and the cast as a whole should take credit.

And yet there are more reservations. "The funniest play of the year!" screamed 'The Guardian' from the front of the programme, but this proved something of an overstatement. Certainly it was funny, but there was a distinct lack of rolling in the aisles and splitting sides. Perhaps this was due to a slight lack of pace in the direction at times or perhaps it was due to the audience. Oops! I forgot the golden rule of theatre: You Can't Blame the Audience. I shall rephrase: perhaps it was due to the publicity. You see, it has always seemed to me that comedy requires a full house - the more people are laughing, the more people will laugh - and in A&E, there just weren't enough punters to achieve critical mass. My cynical mind tallies this observation together with the fact that I only saw one poster for the play - and that was after I'd watched it.

Nonetheless, a very enjoyable time was there to be had, and had it was by me. (Oh, and proving itself an astounding example of the opposite of irony, not one single hand phone rang during the entire performance.)