REVIEW: Henceforward, Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough

Bill Champion and Laura Matthews
Bill Champion and Laura Matthews

In one respect, time has not been kind to Henceforward. The speed of development in communications technology has rendered some of the sci-fi aspects of the original merely contemporary, rather than futuristic.

However, the typical Ayckbourn themes of love, male blindness to the important things in life and the gradual decline of social cohesion are as powerful now as they were on first production in 1987.

The plot: composer Jerome (Bill Champion) is the sole occupant of a remote flat/studio on the upper floors of a high-rise building. The streets outside are ruled by the Daughters of Darkness gang

His only companion is a malfunctioning android (credited in the programme as “herself”, but probably Jacqueline King in Act 1 and Laura Matthews in Act 2). There is comedy, both verbal and physical, from Nan’s idiosyncratic movement and limited vocabulary. Nan secures a largely unnoticed moment of pathos at the climax of the play when, having fulfilled her function, she shuts down.

The attempted reconciliation of Jerome and his wife Corinna (Jacqueline King), under the supervision of Mervyn (Russell Dixon) from Child Services, and their daughter Geain (Jessie Hart) takes an unexpected turn. Nan (now played by Laura Matthews, Jerome’s love interest from Act 1) takes Geain in hand and recreates the little girl that Jerome longs for.

The family agree to leave together, but Jerome y finds the inspiration for composition that he has lacked for four years. He remains behind, working at keyboards and loses his last hope of finding the love he craves. We are not exactly sure of the fate of Corinna, Mervyn and Geain.

Technically, the play appears fiendishly clever. Voice recordings intervene right on cue while the hapless Lupus (Andy Cryer) charts the growing violence outside Jerome’s flat via video link. All this technology is contrasted with the domestic reassurance of serving tea and cakes. Costumes (Rebecca Cartwright) also embody the contradictions represented elsewhere. Corinna’s red leather references S&M while the Nan of Act 2 resembles Little Bo Peep minus the crook. This is Alan Ayckbourn at his darkest. The laughs are there, but the exposure of human weakness is merciless. Jerome’s sacrifice of his wife and daughter in the cause of art looks pathetic and futile.

Henceforward runs until October 8 (in rep).