Alphabetical OrderPosted on: 06 May 2009 by Gareth Hargreaves
Alphabetical Order has been revived in a new production, directed by Christopher Luscombe and wisely set in the period in which it was written, at the Hampstead Theatre in its 50th anniversary year.
Journalism has always been perceived to be a glamorous and exciting occupation and this notion has been conveyed by playwrights over the years, with the brilliant, multi-award winning The Front Page being a prime example.
But eminent British dramatist Michael Frayn takes a rather different approach in his affectionate 1975 comedy Alphabetical Order by looking behind the cut and thrust of the traditional newsroom to focus on the department – the library – which provides a vital service to help complement – and supplement — the work of the journalist and keep the printing presses rolling.
Now Alphabetical Order has been revived in a new production directed by Christopher Luscombe and wisely set in the period in which it was written, at the Hampstead Theatre in its 50th anniversary year.
A provincial newspaper office in the 1970’s — and another day of chaos in the cuttings library. Discarded files and yellow-tinted newspapers are strewn across the floor, and phones are left ringing. And where is Lucy, the librarian…?
Her life, when she finally arrives, and the lives of the journalists who take refuge in their muddled retreat, turn out to be as confused as the library itself. Into this comfortable little world steps Lesley, Lucy’s new assistant. She is young, bright and wants system and order. She wants things to change — which they do but not quite in the way everyone had expected.
This play nostalgically recalls a time of camaraderie and enthusiasm before newspapers became soulless environments with everyone glued to their computer screens but where all information could be obtained by the press of a button, thus making libraries, like the one featured in the play, redundant.
This is also a play of two halves, the first rather laboured and only intermittently amusing where we get to know the characters and what makes them tick, and the second half where the drama really takes off and becomes both funny and poignant and, without giving anything away, surprisingly timely during the current economic downturn.
Luscombe draws convincing performances from his well chosen cast, in particular Imogen Stubbs as Lucy, Chloe Newsome as Lesley, Jonathan Guy Lewis as the leader writer who becomes the apple of both women’s eye, Penelope Beaumont as a predatory features editor and Michael Garner as the newsroom’s ‘flash Harry’ character.
This may not be Frayn at this best — it is drawn on his own experiences — but it retains the interest and provides much food for thought.
By Laurence Green
Where: Hampstead Theatre
When: Plays until 16th May.
Box Office: 020 7722 9301
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