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Seven Doors that aren't worth opening

Review by David Munro

SEVEN Doors is a series of playlets about life, death, despair, futility, frustration and general misanthropy which, after 90 minutes, sent me out into the beautiful surroundings of Chichester Festival theatre brow-beaten and careworn.

I must admit this was my first exposure to the works of Botho Strauss, who, according to the explanatory note in the programme is 'referred to in Germany - somewhat derogatorily - as ‘the German Aykbourn'.

I must confess, the comparison escapes me. I agree that many of Ayckbourn’s plays make much ado about very little, but at least there is some semblance of reality and humour about his characters, however farcically they may be presented.

If what is now being performed at Chichester is representative of Herr Strauss’s work, I think Aykbourn is the one who suffers a rather 'derogatory' comparison.

The same programme note also points out this is the first professional production of a Botho Strauss play in England since 1996, which can hardly apply to Ayckbourn.

The Seven Doors of the title loom ominously at the back of the stage and open or shut meaningfully, or meaninglessly, dependant on your view throughout what one might politely describe as the action or inaction on stage.

For lethargy, both mental and physical, seems to be order of the day. A wedding couple may or may not have informed their friends of the wedding; a man may or may not have got his quiz question correct; a suicide finds the afterlife consists of a man in a purple suit who has no interest in him - and so on.

The presence of the doors being explained, if I understood correctly, as their being there to represent the fact that man does not know what option of escape he has from his way of life, and so is compelled to proceed aimlessly, as it unfolds (or something of the sort )

I can understand that this type of Nihilism, which was fashionable last century, might still attract Avante Garde theatre clubs in the more obscure parts of Britain, but to find it in Chichester, as part of a Festival dedicated to plays with the theme 'Out of This World', in company with happy and lovely productions of The Dream, Just So and an eponymous Cole Porter musical, is a little surprising.

Although the playlets did have a sort of Pinteresqe/ Peter Cook feel about them, they lacked the wit and style of the pointless sketches of which those two authors were masters.

I felt, too, that the players were having a hard time of it and it seemed, at times, as though they were saying their lines in the hope that, even if they didn’t understand them, the audience just might.

Martin Duncan’s direction did the best he could with the material he had, but failed to convince this member of the audience that he was putting over effectively whatsoever point the author was attempting to make with these essays of futility.

I appreciate it is the aim of the festival to present plays from all walks of theatre, but on this occasion I have to agree heartily with Noel Coward that 'Ninety minutes is a long, long, time'.

Seven Doors by Botho Strauss. Director, Martin Duncan; Designer, Ashley Martin-Davis; Lighting, Sam Gibbons; Sound, Gregory Clarke.
CAST: Daniel Abelson; Julie Barnes; Steven Beard; George Couyas; Sophie- Louise Dann; Fiona Dunn; Kieran Hill; Chris Jarman; Darlene Johnson; Stephen Ventura.
Minerva Theatre, Chichester Festival Theatre, Oatlands Park
Chichester, West Sussex, PO19 6AP.
Box Office Tel: - 012843 7813112

In repertory until September 29, 2004.

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