We are living longer, but can love live longer? This is a key theme in Alan Ayckbourn’s future-set 76th play Surprises. Bill Champion’s mega-successful businessman Franklin is 120 years old. He may live another 60 years, but wonders, “Were we designed to love for that length of time?”. He has had many of his body parts replaced and wonders to what extent he is still human.
Ayesha Antoine and Bill Champion in Surprises at the Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough Photo: Robert Day
That latter thought brings in Franklin’s uptight lawyer, played by Sarah Parks. She falls for an android, played with shrieks of wildly inappropriate laughter by Richard Stacey, who has been programmed to have emotions and tell mild fibs.
Surprises continues Ayckbourn’s fascination with science fiction, or more correctly future fiction. This was first seen in Ayckbourn’s family plays, such as Mr A’s Amazing Maze Plays, and has crept into his adult work, such as Communicating Doors. The future setting is cleverly done and explained by a handful of wry observations.
The play begins with Ayesha Antoine’s teenager Grace receiving a visitor from 50 years hence. It is her husband, played by the excellent Ben Porter. He is about to have an important meeting, in her time, and wants her to interfere. Grace’s eventual conclusion is that life should not be planned, but should have surprises. The ever-watchable Antoine is not seen in the second of the play’s three acts, which is a mounting disappointment.
Michael Holt’s flashing, humming and swishing set could have been designed by the boffins at James Dyson’s company - it is fit for both narrative purpose and fun.