There is a detective, a missing wife, a scatter-brained maid and a husband that seems infatuated with the lizard in his garden, along with time travel, meta-fiction and a superfluous dervish. When I phrase it like that, I realise why I am still confused about Tawfik Al Hakeem’s The Tree Climber, but not necessarily in the way it tries to confuse its audience.

Tawfik Al Hakeem, the publicity material tells us, was Egypt’s most renowned playwright, but is unknown in the UK. For that reason, I am grateful that Shubbak Festival has brought him to our attention, as his material is certainly work that needs greater examination. With The Tree Climber, for example, there are moments of true comedy and quirky dialogue, which display a playful mind at work with metafictional quirks and the like. However, I cannot deny that in my mind the script is akin to a poor imitation of Stoppard’s The Real Inspector Hound, or perhaps similar in style to Fo’s Accidental Death Of An Anarchist. Al Hakeem is tugging on many eccentric strings, but, unfortunately, they don’t really tie up together.

When the play opens, a detective interrogates the maid – a comic delight, Merce Ribot, who is frequently called upon to lift proceedings – about the disappearance of her mistress. This leads to accusations against the husband, who confesses (but not really) and then tries to get an alibi from a time-travelling dervish, who then ends up framing him… look, I swear it makes slightly more sense in performance. Yet for all this craziness, the plot rarely seems to go anywhere, or conclude, or even follow basic logic.

Now, scripts have every right to be absurd, non-linear, or even nonsensical; however, they must obey the rules they set themselves in the world they create. This is what confused me about The Tree Climber, as Al Hakim seems to be playing fast and loose with his own rulebook. For example, at one point, flashbacks are treated as a reasonable, metafictional device, but a couple of scenes later they are bizarre signs of a character’s confusion. Similarly, a question about who made the phone call is never answered, despite hints of the answer lying in time travel.

Then there are the characters: each character tries to be independently kooky, but unfortunately they don’t seem to mesh as an ensemble, and as a result fall flat when working off each other. This is the problem – the whole piece seems to give off the attitude of ‘oh, isn’t this all so crazy?’ but there isn’t nearly enough action, energy or silliness to justify this belief, and the comic moments suffer as a result. Notably, the pace is the worst casualty of this attack on enthusiasm, left panting like an asthmatic halfway through a marathon. After all, a farce – and this is what the script gives every impression of The Tree Climber being – is reliant on pace: it is its heartbeat, and every scene, every confusion and every laugh needs to be building on top of the energy already created. At moments this slips through, almost by accident; however, more often than not, lines are lost or not reacted to, or they throw off the rhythm of the dialogue and the comic potential is left at the starting line.

But for all this, I can’t deny that it sort of works. It has a charm and it is engaging, even if half the time the engagement is trying to get your head around it, particularly in the curveball of the final scene. Several moments deserve the guffaws they received. Throughout it all, the comic and narrative potential is buried just below the surface, and it is enjoyable when they come out to play.

But, for the life of me, I can’t work out the point of the lizard subplot.

The Tree Climber is running at the Cockpit Theatre until 18 July. For more information and tickets, see the Cockpit Theatre website.