Tony Award–winning playwright and novelist Frayn (Skios, 2012, etc.) busts out a delectably droll collection of theatrical diversions.
As the mind behind the farce Noises Off, Frayn certainly understands this territory, although more cynical and less Anglophile readers may find these 30 comic pieces too ethereal for their tastes, the literary equivalent of a minidessert. The collection is posited as the work of Matchbox Theatre, where patrons are instructed, “Please feel free to obstruct the aisles. Leave luggage unattended! Talk among yourselves! Eat! Drink! Sleep! Snore! Storm out in the middle, if you feel like it, letting your seats thump up and crashing the panic bolts before you go!” The set pieces themselves largely feel like scissored moments from other works, and indeed, some of the farces, notably “Finishing Touches” and “Pig in the Middle,” have been staged but never published before. The opener, “Sleepers,” is a classic bickering-spouses setup in the tomb of an English lord and his wife, ensconced in one of London’s many crypts (“You slept through the Second World War…”). Another absurdist sketch, “Cold Calling,” details the travails of the man whose job is calling to tell you that you’ve won the Nobel Prize. “Clear” is a linguistic puzzle about just what it means to make one’s self “Perfectly clear.” Another features Schnthph Schmfgth, a member of the “Society for People with Names and Numbers No One Can Ever Catch on the Telephone, Unless It’s Something Wrong With Your Answering Machine.” There’s even a self-congratulatory “Interval”: “So, we’re in a book. —For the moment. Or a theatre, of course. Or neither. Or both. It’s that kind of thing.” This is followed by a “Memorial” allowing participants to remember what the aforementioned interval was like.
For lovers of classic farce, Monty Python and the wildly diverse British sense of humor.