For their 50th birthday celebrations, Hampstead Theatre have chosen to revive Michael Frayn’s Alphabetical Order, which premiered there in 1975. Set in the cuttings library of a regional daily newspaper, Frayn’s first full-length play considers the interplay of order and freedom/chaos (depending on the width of your own authoritarian streak). Governed by arcane principles of what to cut and what not, the beleaguered librarian, Lucy (pictured), collates vast files on everything from power stations to parliamentary bloopers. No one looks at them much. But folk do pop down to use the kettle, have a natter, and argue about her choice of keywords for filing. There’s Arnold, a despondent, alcoholic, features writer, in bottle-green velvet; Geoffrey, the insufferable messenger, dispensing “Don’t do anything I wouldn’t do” cheer; John, an academic-turned-leader-writer who can’t hold a sentence together without the glue of a thousand punctuation marks; Wally, the office joker (sports desk, obviously), with his idiotic, end-of-the-pier grin. And then in comes Lesley, the new assistant librarian, who sees straight through everything and doesn’t like what she sees. She has zero sense of humour, let alone irony (“I don’t know if it helps, going round sticking labels on things.”) and before the beginning of Act II even the tea tray is ship-shape. Philosophical comedy is a tricky thing, and Frayn is a genius. But his gig is wry observation (“When anyone says they often think something it means they just thought of it now.”) – it’s top notch, and whip-smart; but not exactly laugh-out-loud stuff. The philosophical point is well enough made, but at the expense, I fear, of the comedy. The characters are annoying as hell (all of ’em: it’s like Are You Being Served?), and the setting has simply failed the test of time. They play is parochial and dated – and even a parochial, dated audience didn’t warm to it. Honestly, after the best one-liners the only audible reaction was my neighbour’s indigestion. The whole business would have been better rendered as a novel – a novel like Towards the End of the Morning, which Frayn wrote eight years earlier and which deals with the funnier aspects of the newspaper industry.