Alan Ayckbourn first planned a play under this title featuring an airport escalator as an essential prop but thought better of it. Now 11 years on and celebrating the Stephen Joseph Theatre’s 50th anniversary, he makes do with a bar stool and a few sticks of furniture for this deliciously ‘filmic’ study of the linked lives of six lonely Londoners, moving seamlessly between flat-hunting, solitary boozing, dating agency disappointments and a grumpy old bed patient getting more than he expected.
The production first premiered in the round at Scarborough last summer with a running time of 90 minutes. Now this revival, expanded to almost two hours without an interval, plays the Orange Tree before transferring to New York for the Brits Off-Broadway season.
Two brilliant newcomers have joined an already strong cast. Paul Thornley returns to his theatrical roots with a comic portrayal of a young subaltern, cashiered for carelessness, who spends his afternoons and evenings downing doubles in the company of Adrian McLoughlin’s droll hotel bartender, his love-life torn between Melanie Gutteridge’s Sloaney fiancee and Sarah Moyle on a blind date.
Darker moments come from Alexandra Mathie as a born-again Christian whose mission of solace for lonely men takes some decidedly unexpected turns, including a budding relationship with Paul Kemp as her shy, awkward office colleague.
Combined with a bed-hopping drunk and suburban terrors of sex, these are signature Ayckbourn plot developments. But the evening is equally remarkable for its superb construction and performances, sharp observation and understated air of melancholy.