Whenever: World Premiere Reviews
Whenever (by Alfred Hickling)
"To flip back and forth between the years 1886 to 7075 you need either a time-machine or Alan Ayckbourn's dramatic instinct. This wonderful chronological caper has both.
Ayckbourn seems to have been toying with theatrical time since theatrical time began, of course: plays such as Time of My Life and Communicating Doors treat the time-space continuum like a great, cosmic snakes and ladders board devised for the author's own entertainment. As for simultaneous occurrences in separate situations, Ayckbourn has been doing those since The Norman Conquests, right up to the recent House & Garden.
A fully-fledged Ayckbournian time-machine musical is something to savour, then - but as with many of his most imaginatively freewheeling ideas, it's far too clever to be wasted on grownups.
Whenever is Ayckbourn's first co-written collaboration with composer Denis King (whose name you may not recognise but whose Novello Award-winning theme for the television series Black Beauty you could well). Ayckbourn has always enjoyed shuffling his theatrical cards, but this one truly defies categorisation. It's something of a historical-futuristic-farcical grown-up romantic musical adventure for children, and even that sells it a bit short. Above all it is an effortless demonstration that theatre can take you anywhere, particularly in the presence of children, who have far fewer inhibitions about where they might be going.
Whenever trades in the kind of complexity that will have the Harry Potter generation sagely explaining the significance of it all to their parents and teachers on the way out of the theatre. Yet for all this it still retains the clarity of a fairy tale: Good Uncle Martin has invented a time-machine and Wicked Uncle Lucas wants to get his hands on it, so nine-year-old Emily - winningly portrayed by Alison Pargeter - must journey to the end of time to ensure that evil does not prevail.
She picks up three travelling companions from various eras along the way: a chipper cockney, a sensitive android and a friendly Yeti, who unobtrusively assume the roles of Emily's own Scarecrow, Tin-Man and Cowardly Lion. The whole ensemble is excellent, but perhaps Gavin Lee stands out as Oscar, the ARP warden, because he contributes the splendid pearly-king choreography as well.
There will be no finer family entertainment this Christmas - this could take bookings up to the 71st century."
(The Guardian, 9 December 2000)
Whenever (by Dave Windass)
"The Stephen Joseph Theatre is once again home to a highly intelligent piece of theatre for younger audiences. A musical penned by Alan Ayckbourn and Denis King, this production combines time travel with comedy, an abundance of visual stimulation and some good old-fashioned variety.
Emily (Alison Pargeter) is a nine-year-old orphan who escapes from her nasty uncle Lucas (Richard Banham) by hopping into nice uncle Martin's (Stefan Bednarczyk) time machine. The machine is a wonderful blend of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and dome-topped temple, courtesy of designer Roger Glossop, who also makes spectacular use of traps.
Once on board, Emily is transported from 1886 to Blitzkrieg-era Britain, then with ARP warden Oscar (the energetic Gavin Lee, who also choreographs) in tow, into a war-ravaged future where human contact has been replaced by impersonal computer communication. Emily and her travelling companions, now including faulty android Z1991 (Giles Taylor) even find themselves at the end of time, a point at which humans have lost the ability to communicate intelligently.
The talented and extremely hard-working main cast of nine, which also includes Sarah Redmond, Nigel Williams and the ever-so-evil Nicola Sloane and Saskia Butler, play 27 parts between them. Their fine voices can be heard in a mix of memorable numbers, the most endearing of which is a Cockney sing-a-long toe-tapper that leads to an exhibition of the ancient art of spoon playing.
No space in the round for the musical talents of MD Simon Cryer, Kay Bywater and Jonathan Robinson, sadly tucked out of full view but not unnoticed.
In true HG Wells-style, Whenever is an implicit word of warning about a future that could be just around the comer. As such it is a rather brilliant Comic Potential for kids."
(The Stage, 14 December 2000)
Whenever (by Charles Hutchinson)
"As a child Alan Ayckbourn was fascinated by science fiction and The Wizard Of Oz. He now brings the two together in Whenever, his new time-travelling family entertainment. Written with composer Denis King and directed by Ayckbourn himself, Whenever complements the communication breakdown theme of his adult work of 2000, Virtual Reality, and also recalls such earlier plays as Communicating Doors and Comic Potential.
Ayckbourn transforms the Round stage into a time machine for a sci-fi musical adventure set "here, there and everywhere in the time of then, now and yet to come".
It opens in the dark Victoria Britain of 1886, as nine-year-old orphan Emily Bonny (intrepid Alison Pargeter) runs for her life in the time machine of her Uncle Martin (Stefan Bednarczyk). Poor Martin, an inventor in the spirit of Heath Robinson, has just been murdered by the vile Uncle Lucas (Richard Banham).
Plucky Emily; Ayckbourn's variation on Dorothy in The Wizard Of Oz, undertakes a journey to the end of time on board her version of the TARDIS. An eventful trip through time and space that alters her own future and that of mankind at large.
En route, just like Dorothy, Emily acquires three cohorts. First, there is her Scarecrow: Oscar (the outstanding Gavin Lee), a voting London ARP warden as chipper as the Artful Dodger, in the Goodge Street tube station in the midst or the Blitz in 1940: a setting that marks the first time Ayckbourn has written about wartime.
Next, they are joined by the Tin-man figure Ziggi, a droid with a sense of humour in a post-apocalyptic, contaminated future world where man has fought fellow man to virtual extinction, communication is conducted solely through a computer keyboard, and robot droids are "overjoyed to serve humanoids".
Lastly in the distant future of the 51st century, they meet Whenever's Cowardly Lion, Hoombean (Nigel Williams). This timorous Yeti is in fact the last human being on Earth and has lost the ability to communicate intelligently, a condition known previously only to surly teenagers.
Star Wars, Doctor Who and Roald Dahl come to mind as much The Wizard Of Oz in a morality play and cautionary tale that is bleak, pessimistic, yet ultimately hopeful that man can learn form scientific folly. Farce and dark drama, sci-fi thrills and Victorian fairy tale all merge in this very grown-up play for children.
The constant shuffling of the school parties in the audience suggested this far-reaching story was at times often demanding yet whenever they threaten to switch off, the forward thrust and inventive imagination of the show excites them anew.
A play with a future, then."
(Yorkshire Evening Press, 20 December 2000)
Time For A Fascinating Production (by Mike Park)
"From the opening moments of Alan Ayckbourn's latest play, we're taken on an emotional roller coaster ride by a master storyteller.
Nine-year-old Victorian orphan Emily, played convincingly by Alison Pargeter, is hiding in fear from cruel cousin Clara.
Evil runs in the family, with Clara's father resorting to violence to gain control of his nicer brother's latest invention, a time machine.
Emily takes refuge in the machine and is transported 50 years forwards, where she not only encounters her older and even nastier relatives, but finds herself under attack from German bombs.
Another time hop takes her into a future where the human race is in acute danger. Can Emily (with a little help from some new friends) return and undo all that has gone awry?
Answering that question makes for an exciting production, packed with humour and brilliantly performed by a hardworking cast of nine who tackle 26 roles.
Roger Glossop's amazing set constantly surprises and delights, and there are some fine new songs, with music by Denis King.
Although aimed primarily at children, Whenever is also heartily recommended for adults who enjoy a fascinating tale impeccably told."
(Scarborough Evening News, 13 December 2000)
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