Friday, December 30, 2011

Henceforward... - Audiobook Review

Title: Henceforward...
Author: Alan Ayckbourn
Narrator: Jared Harris, Anne Heche, Jack Davenport, Moira Quirk, Full Cast
Unabridged Length: 2 h, 27 m
Published by L.A. Theatre Works, 2011
Genres: Dramatized

From the Publisher:
Starring Anne Heche and Jared Harris, the hilarious Henceforward... is one of Alan Ayckbourn’s most unusual works. In the near-future, a composer with creative block tries to re-unite with his estranged wife and daughter, hoping their reconciliation will free his mind to create his greatest musical masterpiece. But his own erratic impulses hinder his journey to creative freedom.

My Review:
Henceforward… is set in London in the not too distant future. The story takes place at the high-rise apartment of ultra modern music composer Jerome played by Jared Harris. He lives in a rundown section of London without police protection, a no-go zone, in an area controlled by the female gang Daughters of Darkness.

Jerome’s wife split with him 4 years prior, taking their daughter with her. Unfortunately for Jerome, his daughter is also his muse. He’s had no contact with his daughter during this time, and as a result, has been unsuccessful in composing anything during this time; total creative block. The story is about the extremes he goes through to try to get visitation rights with his daughter.

The first act is the set-up for the big visit with Mervyn (Jack Davenport) from the Department of Child Wellbeing, along with Jerome’s estranged wife Corrina (Anne Heche) and daughter Geain (Paula Jane Newman) to determine if he is fit to be a responsible parent. Jerome owns a perfectly human-looking robot named Nan, technically Nan300F. He has programmed Nan with the voice of Corrina. He has also hired Zoe (Moira Quirk) from an escort service to pose as his fiancĂ© for the visit.

Suffice it to say, things don’t quite work out as planned before the visit when it is revealed that Jerome has a strange way of composing his music; extensive use of samples that he gets from his fully audio-wired apartment; potentially from every conversation and sound of any kind … think giant creep factor if you happen to be a guest such as Zoe, who bolts after realizing everything during her overnight visit was recorded and can potentially be used in his music creations. At the time of her stay, Jerome is trying to write his masterpiece, the ultimate music of love.

Act two involves the big visit, except Jerome no longer has a real live stand-in fiancĂ©. Instead, he programs Nan (the robot) with the voicing of Zoe using samples recorded during their previous time together to create on-command verbal responses to every question asked during the visit. It becomes quite amusing as things go awry. Jerome’s perception and the reality are quite different. There are some major twists along the way and a surprise ending.

What a delightful production! I really enjoyed this play. Henceforward… was my first experience listening to a play and I didn’t know exactly what to expect.

I felt like I was literally in the theatre hearing this live. The acting was top notch and there was no trouble following the story or visualizing exactly what was going on throughout. My favorite character was Zoe, particularly in the first act. Moira Quirk’s performance of Zoe stole the show in the first act. Jared Harris shines throughout in his portrayal of the erratic and rather creepy Jerome. Anne Heche gives a very strong showing as Corrina in the second act, when things begin to get strange. Jack Davenport’s Mervyn is quite funny as the child welfare bureaucrat.

Henceforward… was fast moving from the start and didn’t slow down. The play between characters is excellent as each actor owns their character, brings it to life. There is quite a lot of tricky dialogue relative to the audio-wired apartment (quick rewind/repeat sequences) that was handled flawlessly.

Beware that while there is a lot of humor in this play, the overall tone is dark; this is near-future science fiction. Music is used to aurally illustrate snippets of Jerome’s compositions and this works well in the play. Sound effects are also effectively used.

There is an added treat of a 20-minute interview with playwright Sir Alan Ayckbourn in which he explains his inspirations for this play.

L.A. Theatre Works has a large catalog of plays available for audiobook enthusiasts. If you’ve never experienced their work, by all means check it out.

A review copy of Henceforward… was provided by L.A. Theatre Works through the Solid Gold Reviewer program of Audiobook Jukebox.

Jared Harris as Jerome
Anne Heche as Nan (act 1) and Corrina
Jack Davenport as Mervyn
Paula Jane Newman as Geain
Moira Quirk as Zoe and Nan (act 2)
Darren Richardson as Lupus
Directed by Martin Jarvis

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