JUST when you think Alan Ayckbourn has sat back and let his earlier career carry him, he goes all Einstein on us and turns out a stunning piece of work.
Surprises, at the Oxford Playhouse this week, is the master playwright’s 77th play and it’s a welcome return to form after some indifferent fare in recent years.
There’s some of his tricksy stagecraft to keep us on our toes, some wonderful performances, but most of all he presents us with difficult ideas — ideas that we’re confronting right now but may not realise that we are.
Surprises is Ayckbourn’s second crack at time travel. The first was 18 years ago with Communicating Doors. But this one is less concerned with the impossible issues created by shifting through time and space; it uses those ideas, but its strength lies elsewhere. This play calls upon a wealth of developments and influences from the last 20 years: like the virtual site Second Life, Data from Star Trek and The Time Traveller’s Wife.
It also draws upon some millennia-accepted truths and asks if they will apply when an average human being will hit mid-life at the age of 150. Can we expect to stay together in permanent relationships for up to two centuries?
Can we humans satisfy our emotional needs if we live that long? It’s very deep but you only realise it after the show as you find yourself in prolonged discussion about the meaning and destiny of humanity.
Surprises has lots of laughs and hangs together very well despite so many layers and if depth isn’t your thing don’t worry, there’s plenty to keep you amused and you don’t even have to notice it’s there. That’s the beauty of Ayckbourn — something for everyone.
Surprises is at the Oxford Playhouse until Saturday. Box office 01865 305305.