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Alphabetical Order – Introduction

Welcome to this introduction to Alphabetical Order by Michael Frayn. It has been
directed by Christopher Luscombe.

The VocalEyes audio-described performance at The Hampstead Theatre will be on
Saturday 9th May. There will be a touch tour at 2pm, and the introductory notes will start
at 2.45 and the performance itself at 3 pm.

The production lasts for approximately two hours and ten minutes, including a twenty
minute interval. The live audio description will be given for VocalEyes by Julia Grundy
and Eleanor Margolies.

There now follows information about Alphabetical Order, which includes descriptions of
the characters, their costumes and the set. This will be followed by some useful
information and contact details.

Michael Frayn’s play was originally produced in 1975 at the Hampstead Theatre, before
transferring to the West End, and is being revived this year as part of a season
celebrating fifty years of the Hampstead Theatre.

The play is set in the 1970s and takes place in a basement office which houses the
cuttings library of a provincial newspaper.

When we enter the auditorium, the stage is open to us. The basic structure of the office
is hard to distinguish as the overwhelming impression is of mountains of clutter. Both
the side walls and the entire back wall of the room are lined with dozens of bright
turquoise metal filing cabinets and shelf units of different heights. Many drawers have
been left open, and they’re all full to bursting with papers. The shelves are stuffed with
box files and hanging files, out of which sheaves of dog-eared paper protrude.
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The top surface of every cabinet and shelf unit is piled with rubbish, almost up to the
ceiling. This detritus includes masses of large cardboard boxes, a couple of broken
wooden chairs, an old clock, rolls of carpet, ancient box files, brown paper parcels and
buff folders. There are also lampshades, large crumpled envelopes and stacks of
ageing newspapers. Barely visible - the floor of the office is covered with bright green

The ceiling slopes up towards us from the back wall, supported by four slender metal
pillars, one near each of the four corners of the room. A straggly bit of red tinsel is
wound around the near pillar on the right, along with some deflated balloons - the
remains of Christmas decorations. The ceiling is divided into square panels, some of
which are lit up. The only other sources of light are windows set high up on the back
wall, but these are so dirty that the outside light barely filters through. The back wall is
painted in grubby oatmeal beige and stained with watermarks where the rain has
seeped in.

The middle of the room is filled by a square tower which houses the lift. An open
staircase wraps around it, running up, away from us on the right hand side. The treads
are covered in the same green vinyl as the floor of the office. The lift door, made from
dark wood, opens out directly into the office, facing us. It has a small window at eye
level, through which the folding safety gate is visible. As the lift goes up and down, the
gate can be seen sliding past this window. More filing cabinets surround the lift tower
and, on the left hand side of the room, a group of cabinets are grouped back to back in
an island.

It’s possible to walk all the way round the room behind the lift tower, but when anyone
disappears in that direction, going between the cabinets towards the darkness at the
back, they might almost be going into the jungle, never to return.

There’s a little more space in the front part of the office, though this is also chaotic. On
the right hand side, two brown veneered office desks have been pushed together,
forming a T shape with two scruffy wooden chairs set behind them. On top, there’s a
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cream-coloured dial telephone, a brown and orange mug, a number of rubber stamps
and ink pads and piles of buff folders. Both desks and the surrounding floor are covered
with open newspapers, loose pages and cuttings, forming an island of newsprint, much
of it yellowing with age. A metal wastepaper bin by the desk is overflowing with more
paper. To the left of the desks, stands a vinyl covered swivel chair on casters with a
garishly coloured cushion. Beyond the desks, towards the back right corner, there’s a
wooden case of small drawers for index cards. A more modern Rolodex-type card
index, made of metal and plastic, is shoved on top of a filing cabinet.

Over to the left of the room is an elderly easy chair upholstered in a fading brown floral
pattern, with scuffed wooden arms. A low filing cabinet has been pulled out of line and
placed beside the easy chair as a side table, with more papers and a spider plant in a
pot set on top. A worn brown hairy wool rug covers the floor in front. To the left of the
easy chair is a small battered white fridge with an electric kettle sitting on top, with a tray
containing a jumble of unwashed coffee mugs, teaspoons and containers.

Finally, nearest to us, in the corners of the room, stand two heavy old fashioned cast
iron radiators, painted mustard yellow. A heavy glass ashtray filled with dog ends sits
on the floor beside the right hand radiator.

There are seven characters in the play. We first meet Geoffrey, the office messenger.
In his early sixties, Geoffrey is a stout, cheerful man, with his receding dark grey hair
slicked back neatly. He has a ruddy face and sparkling dark eyes. He wears a dark suit
with a ruby red buttoned waistcoat underneath. Though he moves rather stiffly, Geoffrey
always uses the stairs rather than the lift. He is very much at home in the cuttings library
and often stands with his hands in his pockets or leans comfortably on the cabinets.

Lesley, the new assistant librarian, is in her early twenties. She has a trim figure and a
sweet, innocent face, with long blonde hair falling almost to her waist and clipped back
in soft loops above each ear. She wears an immaculate honey-coloured A-line skirt and
matching long-sleeved sweater, with toning knee-high boots. Her outfit is completed
with a silver pendant and gold bracelet. The look is unostentatious but perfectly
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groomed. Lesley’s desk faces us, so that she sits with her back to the stairs and lift
door, and has to turn round to see who has entered the library. Although Lesley makes
shy, apologetic gestures – putting a hand to her mouth as she says ‘Sorry’, or nervously
smoothing her skirt – underneath, she is quite unruffled by the chaos around her and
puts her head down to work without showing a flicker of amusement or irritation.

Lucy, the librarian, is in her mid-thirties with a pale, rosy cheeked complexion, eyes
outlined with kohl, and a mass of auburn hair in a loose bob. She’s dressed in a
bohemian style, in flowing, somewhat mismatched items: a long-sleeved white blouse
with flared cuffs and an orange and green striped tank top over it, a grey tweed calf-
length skirt and chestnut brown knee-high boots. When she arrives, she wears a
shabby fur coat, with a striped scarf wound twice around her neck. Lucy’s desk is set at
right angles to Lesley’s, and she can survey the room from her chair, but she also likes
to fling herself down in the easy chair, or perch on the top of a desk, regardless of the
papers piled on it. Lucy stamps newspaper cuttings carelessly and turns over files in an
apparently random way, but usually manages to find what she’s looking for. Her bursts
of energy alternate with moments when she collapses in frustration over her desk, or
rests her chin on one hand, head cocked wistfully.

We meet four journalists. John is in his late thirties, a handsome man with sandy
blonde hair that sticks up a little, giving him a boyish look. He has an absent, academic
air, often frowning or chewing on his knuckle as he gets lost in his own thoughts. At
these moments, he’s usually lolling in the easy chair. But he’s also restless and
impatient, and strides off into the depths of the filing cabinets when no one’s paying
attention to him. John wears a clashing, dishevelled combination of brown trousers and
brown suede shoes with olive-coloured velvet jacket, mint green jumper and red tie, his
white shirt sticking out slightly from beneath the jumper.

In complete contrast to John is the silent, melancholy journalist Arnold. Arnold’s in his
fifties, with a slow, slightly shambling manner. Despite this, he has a distinguished,
almost theatrical look. His silver-grey collar-length hair is swept back from his forehead,
and he has a short-trimmed grey beard and moustache. He wears a wine-coloured
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polo-neck, brown trousers and a dark green velvet jacket. Arnold’s preferred place in
the library is the office chair to the left of the desks, hunched over a file and saying very

Wally is an energetic political journalist in his fifties with a pink, healthy face and neatly-
trimmed white hair. He tends to bound down the stairs and take up a stance in the
centre of the room, addressing his jokes to an imaginary audience, ignoring many of the
people actually present in the room. His outfit – although co-ordinated - gives him a
clownish look: with his dark brown trousers and tie, and beige shirt, he wears a brown
jacket with a very large check.

And lastly, Nora, the features editor, is in her fifties. She’s dressed in a matching navy
skirt and waistcoat over a bold patterned blouse in orange and brown, tied with a large
floppy bow at the collar. A pearl necklace and a pair of glasses on a chain hang round
her neck. Her short reddish hair is carefully set in loose waves, and she wears
unflattering heavy make up. Nora is tall and quite imposing as she sweeps around the
room, stirring people up in different ways, commenting on their clothes, or giving them
little hugs and nudges.

Cast and Production Credits

Geoffrey is played by Ian Talbot

Lesley, by Chole Newsome and

Lucy by Imogen Stubbs.

John is played by Jonathan Guy Lewis

Arnold by Gawn Grainger,

Wally by Michael Garner, and

Nora by Penelope Beaumont,
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The sound designer is Fergus O’Hare

The lighting designer Tim Mitchell

The designer is Janet Bird,

And the Director, Christopher Luscombe

Useful Information and Contact Details

At Hampstead Theatre Guide dogs are allowed in the auditorium. Guide dog care
outside of the auditorium is available if you prefer. Water can be provided for guide dogs
in the cafébar.

If you are bringing a guide dog, you will probably have informed the box office on
making your booking. However, if you have not, could you please let the theatre know
by calling the House Manager 020 7449 4179.

If you require any further information before your visit, please phone The box office on
020 7722 9301 between the hours of 9am – 8pm Monday to Saturday.

If you have access to email, you can contact the theatre at The fax number is 020 7449 4201.
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The cafébar in the main foyer is open 9am – 11pm. A small menu of food is served
throughout the day. The bar is fully licensed and hot and cold drinks are available. You
can contact the catering team on 020 7449 4205.

To contact VocalEyes, call us on 020 7375 1043. You can receive a copy of the free
VocalEyes Newsletter with full details on all our work by calling us or by following the
links on the VocalEyes accessible website. The Newsletter is available in print, Braille,
on CD or via e-mail. The website address is

VocalEyes is a charity funded by Arts Council England.

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