Catherine Wilson enjoys a most unconventional futuristic love story at the Theatre Royal, Windsor. Alan Ayckbourn’s Henceforward is showing until Feb 18
© Tony Bartholomew
Staged in the historic surroundings of Windsor’s Theatre Royal, Alan Ayckbourn’s dark sci-fi comedy transports the audience to a rather more unsettling future world, where advancing technology has resulted in social breakdown and interpersonal disconnection. Indeed, in an age where more and more people seem happier interacting with a screen than the person next to them, this play, originally written in 1987, is a rather terrifying prediction of current times.
The protagonist of the play Jerome, played by Bill Champion, is a self-obsessed composer who finds himself with writer’s block following the departure of his wife and daughter (some four years earlier). He finds comfort in robot companion Nan 300F, brilliantly portrayed by both Jacqueline King in Act 1 and later by Laura Matthews following a rather startling transformation at the beginning of Act 2.
The play centres on Jerome’s attempted reconciliation with his wife Corinna and daughter Geain, although we suspect his real drive is to start composing again at whatever cost. We follow Jerome on a bizarre journey to create his pièce de résistance, the ultimate love song.
He first hires an escort girl (Laura Matthews) to pretend to be his fiancé, with the intention of making his estranged wife (Jaqueline King) jealous and convincing child services that he has created a suitable home environment for his daughter. In fact, what he has created is an extensive recording device, with every room bugged in a futile attempt to capture the musical essence of love. Following an impromptu liaison with escort girl, Zoe, Jerome uses her to compose a rather steamy love anthem and, on learning of this intrusion of her privacy, she is quick to exit revealing him to be a “listening Tom”.
© Tony Bartholomew
Left without an escort girl to help construct his fantasy world, Jerome creates his own vision of the ‘perfect little lady’ transforming robot Nan300F into his fiancé. The comedic pace gathers momentum in Act 2 as Laura Matthews wonderfully depicts his mechanical housewife in front of his ex-wife and a rather bumbling child services officer (Russell Dixon). There are some very funny interactions between all of the characters as human foibles are revealed in tandem with failing technology and malfunctions start to appear in robot and human alike.
There is a strong cameo performance from Jessie Hart playing Jerome’s daughter and in a dramatic climax, Jerome is rather unexpectedly offered the salvation and love of his family. However, even though presented with this lifeline, when faced with the split from his mixing decks we are left with the feeling that the only person Jerome is in love with is himself.
This was a thought-provoking night out and a somewhat bleak portrayal of our future relationship with technology and each other. The comedic relief throughout ultimately makes the situation all the more poignant and tragic. In an era where technology may have the power to outdo us humans, let’s hope we can continue to laugh at ourselves!
- Henceforward is showing at Windsor's Theatre Royal until Feb 18. For tickets visit theatreroyalwindsor.co.uk
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