Alan Ayckbourn is the gift that keeps on giving to the theatre world. Now 84 years old, he could be forgiven for setting down his playwrighting pen and resting on his literary laurels.
However, Constant Companions is his 89th play and I am sure that he has every intention of making it a round century of delights before he even considers any notion of exiting stage left.
The glorious thing about his output though is the fact that his very fertile imagination still has the ability to remain relevant to the world that exists outside the auditorium and still has the talent to provoke thought and laughter in the audience member in equal measure.
Constant Companions is certainly a thought-provoking piece of theatre. Set in the not-too-distant future when androids have become a regular fixture in both our homes and in our workplaces, there are three different scenarios played out in front of the audience.
Don (Andy Cryer) has just received a delivery of his android but is disappointed to find that it has arrived in flat-pack form. Daunted by the copious instructions and frustrated by not being able to put his pretty female companion with optional extras to immediate use, he calls his friend Winston (Leigh Symonds).
Winston is an android mechanic who has a Companion of his own and quickly reassures Don that assembling the android is a piece of cake and leaves his friend to his own devices. Sadly, Don’s inability to fully follow instructions has disastrous consequences.
The truth is that Don is too busy to pay much heed to his friend’s plea for help. He has been called in to deal with a malfunction in ED (Naomi Petersen). ED’s owner Andrea (Tanya Loretta-Dee) is concerned that her robot has begun an affair with Robin her eldest son.
This idea is quickly rejected by the technician who explains that ED is programmed to be re-active rather than pro-active. However, further analysis of her system gives evidence that the fling may be more than just a figment of imagination.
JAN 60 (Richard Stacey) is another android with enhanced programming. Janitor in the office block where Lorraine (Alexandra Mathie) is the head of a law firm and Sylvia (Georgia Burnell) is her PA, JAN exhibits affection towards his boss who – treated badly by her husband – turns to him for emotional sustenance and a long-term relationship.
The characters in the last two of the scenarios gradually come together and as the humans age we are introduced to the problems that the progress of AI could bring to our personal lives – the dilemma of inter-marriage between human and android as one partner ages and the other remains youthful, the opprobrium of public opinion towards mixed marriage and the future of the human race. Despite continuing to curtsy at every mention of her former employer’s name, ED has developed from a compliant being to one who can display all the bad traits of a regular human. A worrying thought
Don and Winston remain in the present and project our feelings of inadequacy but the remainder of the cast – despite a delightfully and amusingly staged production – offer a future that sends chills down the spine.
Stacey and Petersen are magnificent as the two humanoids and they are excellently supported by all other members of the cast. With action separated by some haunting clips of electronic music, the Stephen Joseph Theatre Company has once again come up with the goods.
If your idea of a good evening out is a play with plenty of humour, great acting and staging and plentiful scope for reflection, then Constant Companions is a must-see.
The play has a running time of approximately 2 hours 35 minutes including interval and continues until November 4th. For ticket information contact 01782 717962 or firstname.lastname@example.org