Photo by Victor Kalka
Shevvi Barrett-Brown reviews the latest SUDS play, Alphabetical Order.
Michael Frayn’s Alphabetical Order, directed by Tabitha Woo, invites its audience into the office of a small town library, home to an array of quirky, provincial characters and led by the enduring librarian Lucy (Imogen Hubber). The office is a mess, and Lucy has called in help. The arrival of stern, organised Assistant-Librarian Leslie (Amanzi Lawrence) quickly threatens the happy chaos of the office.
The cramped, detailed set and tweed-inspired costuming hint at the 1970s British setting. In most scenes the set was functional, delightfully vintage and dynamic. In all-cast scenes it was an absolute joy. The cast, each inhibiting a character balanced with too-close-to-home flaws and hilarious caricature, squeezed through file cabinets and climbed on chairs and rolled around in paper in a lively celebration of clutter and mess. They maintained energy and impeccable comedic timing through character-on-character insults, mid-scene phone calls from citizens regarding increasingly inappropriate facts and figures, to a cheerfully destructive finale.
Amanzi Lawrence mirrored the Act Two set change in her performance, both taking on a colder, more ordered dignity than in the opening disarray. Hugh Guest demonstrated particular skill with Frayn’s sharp writing, playing a boisterous reporter you loved to hate. The cast was tight, smoothing over lost lines and beautifully timing, and nailing frequent split-focus scenes. Duologues between leads Hubber and Lawrence were a highlight, encapsulating the central conflict of the play and lending each act a quiet moment of poignancy.
Though individual scenes were tight, energetic and sharp, the two-hour play, as a whole, tended to drag. Alphabetical Order is a play for an older and British audience. Script cuts might have done well to maintain the punch of stylistically repetitive gags. The plot held no surprises, though a predictable ending was joyously executed with a burst of colour and the extensive comedic use of encyclopaedic headings. The short final scene was a slight let down from the true final moments before, though this may be attributed to tech timing failings.
Alphabetical Order was the most entertaining library I’ve ever been to, and I recommend you catch the final night. Find out more here.