All In The Timing is an enjoyable smorgasbord of short comic plays, each written in the late 1980s by American playwright David Ives. There are six plays in total, but you’ll only get to see three of them: one is chosen by the cast, while another two are selected by audience vote, the first based just on the titles and the second on a short summary of the plots. The humour’s more chucklesome than side-splitting and there are a couple of jokes that seem rather dodgy these days, but an excellent four-member cast elevates the performance above the norm.
First on the day I attended was The Universal Language, performed almost entirely in a fictional tongue with echoes of English, Dutch and Esperanto. There’s entertainment to be had from the misappropriation of foreign vocabulary, and Ives deftly selects whimsically comic words to stand in for everyday concepts. But this is quite a long piece, and it’s really just one joke – at least until the final moments, when the narrative takes a guessable but unexpectedly heartening turn. At one point we’re expected to laugh at a stammer, which is gauche, even if the humour ultimately comes from a supportive point of view.
The second piece, Philip Glass Buys a Loaf Of Bread, was my favourite of the day’s menu – though it’s also the hardest to describe. More poetry than theatre, it sees all four cast members speak in rhythmic chorus, repeating and combining fragments of dialogue like a musical refrain. As with all the pieces, it was impeccably rehearsed and faultlessly performed, and the combination of voices has an unexpected beauty. You can choose to enjoy this one for its sound alone – or to tune in to the comedy, and notice that the words they’re speaking are often quite silly.
The last piece on the day I attended was Sure Thing, an exploration of the dozens of different ways to mess up a romantic encounter in a coffee shop. It’s basically a scripted version of the improv game Should Have Said; whenever a bell rings, the characters rewind a couple of lines, changing what they say and continuing the scene in a new direction. It’s a clever device, allowing for hilarious faux-pas without scene-ending consequences, though I did find the faltering structure grew repetitive after a while. Again there’s a joke I winced at – this time touching on mental illness – but the characters are both likeable, so I rooted for them to find the right path through the verbal maze and enjoy the rest of their lives together.
Each of the short plays is gently funny, and the examples I saw all end on a warming upbeat note. They’re superbly performed as well, by a cast who recognise the emotional heart of the pieces as well as the comedy. But with the exception of Philip Glass, I felt these plays overstayed their welcome – not quite recognising when the joke was worn through and it was time for them just to end.
And I’m not so sure the audience vote, choosing three scenes from the available six, adds very much. It introduces the agony of choice for no compelling reason, and it’s inevitable that some in the audience will end up rueing a more interesting-sounding scene that they didn’t get to see. The simpler technique of just performing different menus on alternate days would at least mean you could catch the complete set without fear of repetition.
Overall though, All In The Timing is an enjoyable piece of theatre, and a convincing vehicle for its uniformly talented cast.