Writer: Alan Ayckbourn
Director: Robin Herford
Reviewer: Selwyn Knight
Ginny and Greg met a month ago but the attraction was immediate and they are now happily cohabiting. Not an unusual story nowadays, perhaps, but maybe more so in 1965 London, the setting for Alan Ayckbourn’s Relatively Speaking, his first West End hit play. First performed in 1967, Ginny and Greg’s storyline reflects the developing mores of the swinging 1960s – Greg is infatuated with Ginny, his first love, and their current situation, including Ginny’s single bed and its pitfalls, won’t do – he is keen they should marry and that he should also ask her father for her hand.
Ginny is rather more sexually experienced – as the story opens one summer morning in Ginny’s flat, it is clear that there are some skeletons in her closet – where did all those flowers and chocolates come from, for example. When Ginny leaves, ostensibly to see her parents and refusing to let Greg accompany her circumstances conspire to allow Greg to follow her.
And so we meet Philip and Sheila, a long-standing married couple living in the country, whose marriage is under some strain. As first Greg and then Ginny appear, amusing misunderstanding and mistaken identities ensue. On the surface, the whole is a light comedy, not quite farce, but with lashings of laughs and dramatic irony. Under the surface, however, are harder questions that only the future will answer for our two couples – how well can one actually know one’s partner, for example, whether as a couple in the first flush of passion or when approaching one’s twilight years together? Even as we laugh at the misunderstandings in Ayckbourn’s witty and well-constructed script, there is a slightly uneasy feeling about the quality of the outwardly successful relationships we see. This is no neat Comedy of Errors with loose ends neatly tied and tucked away – it’s by no means clear how the characters will cope after the events of this summer weekend.
Robert Powell and Liza Goddard are excellent as Philip and Sheila. Goddard’s brings out Sheila’s bemusement at much that goes on well – her wide experience in light comedy helps to make it entirely believable that she might welcome a stranger to her home and offer him lunch despite not having much idea who he might be and what it is he speaks of. Powell’s Philip is also believable as a character believing himself cuckolded. The scenes between Greg and him are quite delicious to watch.
Antony Eden’s turn as the rather naïve Greg is also a delight, from his posturing as he can’t quite believe his luck at the beginning to his well-meaning stirring of an already confused situation he remains convincing. His is ultimately the most sympathetic character and we certainly spend much of the play rooting for him. Lindsey Campbell demonstrates effectively Ginny’s despair at the how her lifestyle has led to her current situation as well as her well-meaning desire to straighten things out are palpable, even if Ginny is depicted rather more two-dimensionally than the other characters.
The feeling of typical 1960s British life, albeit in two quite different worlds, is supported by the detailed sets from designer Peter McKintosh. Ginny’s flat is untidy and basic, movie posters cheering up the walls; the patio of Philip and Sheila’s house screams out suburban commuter belt. However, the need to change between the two sets behind the lowered curtain as the action moves from London to the country does have an impact on the flow.
One can easily imagine this production playing in 1967, and this is perhaps its one shortcoming. The creative team has presented it almost as a museum piece – undoubtedly a safe decision as the audience mainly comprises those who will remember the sexual revolution of the 1960 and the laughs come thick and fast once the setting up is complete and the action moves to the country. But one can’t help wondering if maybe a trick has been missed by not providing a more contemporary angle that could widen its appeal even further.
Runs until 5 November 2016 | Image: Contributed