Writer: Alan Ayckbourn
Music: Phil Butterfield
Director: John Cotgrave
Reviewer: Audrey Pointer
Alan Ayckbourn is one of the world’s most prolific playwrights. His plays are some of the most performed throughout the world. Relatively Speaking was first produced in Scarborough in 1965. The West End première, starring Richard Briers, came two years later and is seen as a major turning point in Ayckbourn’s career. Dick &Lottie, the drama company named after two of Ayckbourn’s off-stage characters, has taken on the challenge of concurrently producing Relatively Speaking and Life of Riley at the Lawrence Batley Theatre’s Sygenta Cellar. The run has been successful and extra performances have been added to meet additional audience demand for tickets.
Set in the 60s, the play is a comedy about relationships, infidelity and misunderstandings. A pair of slippers is a vital prop. Reflecting the social change and sexual liberation of the sixties, Ginny is a young woman with a busy love life. Greg wants to marry her but there are complications. When Greg tries to seek the approval of Ginny’s parents, he sets in motion a train of misunderstandings which create the comic bedrock of the work.
The Sygenta Cellar provides a long, narrow acting space so the audience is in touching distance of the actors. This adds to the immediacy of the experience and gives a similar feel to that provided at the Stephen Joseph Theatre. However, as there is no front to the space, as in a traditional theatre, some of the lines of sight are inevitably blocked. Members of the audience can find themselves at times, for example, looking at the back of an actor’s head rather than his or her face.
In terms of costume, Ginny (played by Sarah Mansley) and Sheila (Hannah Head) wore authentic vintage attire. As for the two men – Greg (Daniel Henry) and Philip (John Cotgrave), their clothing was of a more modern era, vaguely suitable for several decades, since men’s fashion changes less.
Sound, including telephone rings, doorbells and birdsong for the garden scenes, was accurate and well cued. The lighting schedule was busy and well handled. Direction by John Cotgrave showed rigour, and with only a few line fluffs, possibly indicative of slight under rehearsal, achieved solid performances all round.
Daniel Henry made an affable Greg, the innocent boyfriend at the centre of the confusion surrounding the woman he wants to wed. Sarah Mansley was a very credible Ginny, a modern 60s girl trying to enjoy sexual freedom but realising it comes with its own problems. John Cotgrave, who also directed the piece, displayed fine comic timing as Philip. His facial expressions on first meeting Greg, who is suffering under various misapprehensions, were a treat to watch. Hannah Head, playing Sheila, gave a very strong performance, droll and commanding. During one inopportune entrance she also delivered the line that achieved the biggest laugh of the evening. Her middle class accent was impeccable throughout, convincingly conveying a polite English manner, without which some of the misunderstandings and comic business would not have worked.
The fact that the play was written in the 1960s is both its strength, and its weakness. It feels authentic, unlike some more modern attempts to recreate the era. However, in some ways it is dated in terms of characters and language. The setting up of the action makes act one amble along at a sedate pace but the tempo quickens nicely in the second half. When the central misunderstanding is at its height, the play is very comical. Dick &Lottie deserve praise for its production, which is amusing and captures the mood of the era well.
Reviewed on: 9th February 2014