Minerva Studio, Chichester, W Sussex
Opened 15 July, 2004

Playwright Botho Strauss has been called “the German Ayckbourn”. It’s meant disparagingly in his homeland, but you can half-see why. Just don’t underestimate the “German” bit of it.  Like Mr A, Strauss writes clever, comic yet thoughtful plays about ordinary people caught up in strange events, and which don’t simply move from A to B.  The big abstract themes and concepts, however, are also plainly visible.

Seven Doors is, I suppose, about both the brute facelessness and also the absurdity of everyday life, as little people move through bizarre situations.  The 90-minute piece, though, takes the form of eleven separate scenes, some of them almost sketches. Some characters recur from scene to scene, others not.  Serving this chin-stroking profundity in bite-sized chunks renders it more digestible. In fact, it’s often a hoot.

Behind the doors in Strauss’s world:  A car park attendant is so scared of what might be Out There that he tries to hire a bodyguard. A self-satisfied suicide meets the Void with whom he must spend eternity, and is annoyed that his Void is a whining nuisance.  A man, officially ranked one of the most insignificant people on the entire planet, is given the keys to all the world’s nukes to hide in his wardrobe.

This is the sort of material that could easily become Germanically ponderous.  But Strauss has a deft touch with dramatic situations and a keen ear for the faintly ridiculous phrase. With the skilled Jeremy Sams translating, some moments can sound not unlike Joe Orton.  Director Martin Duncan doesn’t go large on the wackiness as he did with the same author’s Time And The Room several years ago, but keeps things light.

The staging arranges an easy flow from one scene into the next (unlike the writing), and there’s a nice choice of music ranging from early jazz to a novelty vocal number to Kraftwerk.  There’s also – forgive me for getting hung up on this – an amazing range of tasteless “pimp” shoes in the costumes!  Not to everyone’s taste, but the trio who now run Chichester are discreetly broadening their audience’s horizons.

Written for Teletext.

Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.

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