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Sunday, 19 February 2012

Alphabetical Order, a Play by Michael Frayn, Reviewed

Michael Frayn - Cambridge - 2011
Michael Frayn - Cambridge - 2011 (Photo credit: Chris Boland )

Plays are, of course, intended to be seen, experienced, rather than read. However, as a writer who has had a radio play broadcast by the redoubtable BBC, I have an interest in play scripts, and enjoy reading them as well.

Michael Frayn has a reputation as a playwright who understands comedy. And Alphabetical Order is a great example of his strength in creating humour. The stage setting remains unchanged throughout the 2 acts, except for some 'tidying' essential to the story. So, the whole action takes place within the library of a local newspaper and involves the librarians and some of the reporting and editorial staff.

Having worked on a local paper, as a photographer, I have some empathy with the characters portrayed and some understanding of their peculiar pressures and priorities. The characters are well drawn, using the playwright's only real tool; that of dialogue. It's possible to picture them on the stage from the script, because they are so well described by their chosen words and what they have to say or what is said about them by other characters; the essence of a stage play.

The action is minimal, as is the plot, but the play covers a great deal of ground in terms of character building and relationship development. There are plenty of jokes and many occasions given to laughter, both with and at the characters. But there is pathos too. The aura of gentle decay and the overriding sense of futility combine with the overall frivolity of the dialogue, which hides those secrets that lurk beneath the surface of the spoken text. So, there are some surprises but the drama plays out more or less as expected.

The denouement is slightly surprising in the way it happens, but the reader realises that the outcome was, in fact, inevitable, given the natures of the characters and their employment. Typical of the very English setting and characterisation, there is a lot more beneath the surface, unstated but alluded to, making the play a multi-layered experience.

I enjoyed this, and recommend it to those who enjoy their drama in thoughtful but gentle comedy form.

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