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


Jane Goodall: We can live in harmony with nature
76836 2017-07-25 00:00:00Z Profiles

Jane Goodall: We can live in harmony with nature

by Sally Blundell

A world in which humans live in harmony with nature is still possible, says veteran environmental campaigner Jane Goodall.

Read more
Film festival 2017: David Larsen on the highlights (and lowlights) so far
76887 2017-07-25 00:00:00Z Movies

Film festival 2017: David Larsen on the highlights…

by David Larsen

The New Zealand International Film Festival is back for another year and Metro's David Larsen is in his happy place.

Read more
Richard Dawkins' truth, science and tediousness
76845 2017-07-25 00:00:00Z Books

Richard Dawkins' truth, science and tediousness

by Danyl McLauchlan

Richard Dawkins’ profound admiration for himself comes through loud and clear – with footnotes.

Read more
As anti-vaccination numbers rise, is it a case of herd stupidity, not immunity?
75047 2017-07-25 00:00:00Z Health

As anti-vaccination numbers rise, is it a case of …

by Sarah Lang

It’s astonishing just how many well-educated, presumably semi-intelligent New Zealanders subscribe to and try to spread this kind of nonsense.

Read more
The dreaded autocorrect disaster
76840 2017-07-25 00:00:00Z Life in NZ

The dreaded autocorrect disaster

by Joanne Black

Autocorrect may hide your texting and typing bloopers, but it won’t stop your blushes.

Read more
Retailers say competition laws block charge on plastic bags
76850 2017-07-24 16:14:42Z Environment

Retailers say competition laws block charge on pla…

by RNZ

1.5 billion plastic bags are used here each year and on average it takes just 12 minutes before a bag enters the waste stream.

Read more
Crossword 1037 answers and explanations
6 reasons your next family holiday should be in Taranaki
76777 2017-07-24 08:32:07Z Travel

6 reasons your next family holiday should be in Ta…

by Venture Taranaki

How to holiday like a local in the Naki.

Read more