All in the interval
I've seen many plays where the set tells the story, but Alphabetical Order is the first I remember in which the scene change represents the vital visual image.
Michael Frayn's 1975 comedy is set in the library of a regional newspaper. (Let's just take a moment to savour those nostalgic words: library; regional; newspaper. Anyone need footnotes, or are you happy to look them up on Wikipedia?). The library is in chaos (and, as it's the 1970s, so is the country). Lucy, the loveably scatty librarian does battle against a hopeless tide of clutter, abetted by a clutch of journalists on the paper who make her den their home from home, until a quietly efficient young assistant arrives to impose order on the chaos.
That imposition occurs between the acts, but what Lesley does in the play is actually achieved by the Hampstead Theatre's dauntless stage management team during the interval. It was magnificent to watch, a 15-minute war on stuff. Scattered piles of paper were stacked neatly, folders were returned to filing cabinets. Upended chairs were removed from the tops of said cabinets, along with books, newsprint and random domestic items. A stern clock is placed on the wall, and neat labels fixed on all the cabinets. Only one desk (Lucy's) is allowed to retain its impedimenta - indeed, the team added yet more drifts of paper, and a whimsical pot plant.
When the lights went up fully on the pristine aquamarine cabinets (sorry chaps, it's the 70s), the audience burst into applause. Christopher Luscombe's deeply pleasurable production nicely reclaims a play full of teasing insights, but I suspect that its the wonders of the interval that will cling to my memory. If the Hampstead Theatre can tame an entire office in a quarter of an hour, imagine what they could do for you? Surely, in these financial times of ours, the theatre should consider hiring them out as bespoke declutterers?
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