Skios by Michael Frayn review

by Marion McLeod / 21 July, 2012
He’s done it on stage with <em>Noises Off</em>, but can Michael Frayn do it for the page, too?
It’s daunting to contemplate the list of previous publications at the front of Michael Frayn’s new novel. It’s almost farcical – a font half the size of the copy type and still it spreads to two columns: fiction, plays, translations, film and television, non-fiction, memoir … and that’s not counting his extensive journalism. Noises Off, the brilliant, long-running farce, is probably Frayn’s best-known piece. He wrote Skios, he says, because he was curious to see if he could do farce for the page rather than the stage. Could he pull it off without the actors? Of course he could. I did keep wondering, as I read, whether this story wouldn’t be better if played on the stage, preferably written by Frayn himself. Or by Shakespeare. The physical element of theatre would undoubtedly add another dimension to the comedy, but at the same time something would be lost: the internal musings of the confused central characters.

In the tradition of farce, the plot revolves around mistaken identity, mistaken bedrooms and the ensuing chaos. Skios is a small and picturesque Greek island. A group of wealthy English-speakers has gathered at the Fred Toppler Foundation for the annual Great European House Party. After seminars in Minoan cookery, early Christian meditation techniques, traditional Macedonian dancing and late medieval flower arrangement, they await the climax of the whole shebang, the Fred Toppler Lecture. Dr Norman Wilfred, a world-famous authority on the scientific organisation of science (sic), is this year’s lecturer. We meet him high above the ground, sipping business-class champagne and wondering why he does it, why, like a character from David Lodge’s Small World, he spends his life globe-trotting and strutting his stuff.

On the same flight is Oliver Fox, much younger than Wilfred, much thinner, and much, much better-looking, but equally jaded, equally eager for change. Which is why he knowingly takes the wrong suitcase from the carousel. Which is why he heads toward the blonde lady holding up the sign for Wilfred. The rest is slapstick of the highest order. Farce is by its nature over the top. But where some writers of farce go too far over the top, Frayn always refrains (sorry) from doing so. His is an English sense of the ridiculous. Skios is absurd, with laugh-out-loud moments and satirical touches. But as farce goes, it’s discreet, very intelligent and beautifully paced.

SKIOS, by Michael Frayn (Faber and Faber, $36.99).

Marion McLeod is a Wellington reviewer.
MostReadArticlesCollectionWidget - Most Read - Used in articles
AdvertModule - Advert - M-Rec / Halfpage

Latest

The often-windswept Neil Oliver is headed indoors for a live NZ show
85873 2018-01-16 00:00:00Z Culture

The often-windswept Neil Oliver is headed indoors …

by Russell Baillie

Neil Oliver's live shows are based on a prolific career of making the past come alive on television and in print.

Read more
Hilary Barry takes Mike Hosking’s spot on Seven Sharp
85857 2018-01-15 13:40:27Z Television

Hilary Barry takes Mike Hosking’s spot on Seven Sh…

by Katie Parker

Hilary Barry takes over Seven Sharp and ex-Green candidate Hayley Holt replaces her on Breakfast. But not all are happy at the seat shuffling.

Read more
Auckland Harbour Bridge lights will 'change the skyline'
85843 2018-01-15 10:41:09Z Urbanism

Auckland Harbour Bridge lights will 'change the sk…

by Sally Murphy

Work is being done around the clock to install 90,000 solar powered LED lights on the Auckland Harbour Bridge.

Read more
Inside Fukushima’s nuclear ghost towns
85838 2018-01-15 10:01:10Z World

Inside Fukushima’s nuclear ghost towns

by Justin Bennett

Seven years after Japan's devastating tsunami, evacuees from towns around Fukushima's Daiichi nuclear plant have yet to return.

Read more
'Baby brain' is real - but we're still not sure what causes it
85822 2018-01-15 08:52:02Z Health

'Baby brain' is real - but we're still not sure wh…

by Sasha Davies

A new study has found "baby brain" is real, but mums-to-be shouldn't worry - it doesn't make a dramatic impact on daily life.

Read more
Paddington 2 – movie review
85704 2018-01-15 00:00:00Z Movies

Paddington 2 – movie review

by James Robins

Returning to its heartening roots, the sequel to Paddington doesn’t disappoint.

Read more
The long Jewish struggle to find a place of belonging
85756 2018-01-15 00:00:00Z Books

The long Jewish struggle to find a place of belong…

by Ann Beaglehole

Comprehensive and personal, Simon Schama's history of the Jewish people is a rewarding read.

Read more
Why North & South has decided to use Māori macrons
85806 2018-01-15 00:00:00Z Life in NZ

Why North & South has decided to use Māori macrons…

by Joanna Wane

It’s 30 years since te reo Māori was made an official language of NZ and from now on macrons will be in place in the magazine and online stories.

Read more