Writer: Alan Ayckbourn
Director: Robin Herford
Reviewer: Dawn Smallwood
Relatively Speaking was written in 1965, originally titled Meet My Father. The play premiered in London’s West End in 1967 to positive reviews. This production is jointly presented by Theatre Royal Bath Productions and Kenny Wax Ltd and is currently touring nationwide.
The comedy play introduces, Greg (Antony Eden) and Ginny (Lindsey Campbell), a young couple who are cohabiting, and it is evident that Ginny has previously had a series of relationships. Greg is suspicious that Ginny hasn’t been faithful and thus challenges Ginny with her “predecessors”. Ginny embarks on a day out to the countryside, supposedly visiting her parents. In reality, she intends to end her relationship with Philip, her older married lover. Greg decides to follow her.
The play moves to the home of Philip (Robert Powell) and Sheila (Liza Goddard), both of whom are seen to be in a marriage rut and engaging in an uneasy dialogue over breakfast in the garden. Greg unexpectedly turns up, assuming the couple are Ginny’s parents and pursues permission from Philip to marry Ginny, much to his bemusement. Assumptions become incomprehensively complicated with naivety and innocence. More so with Ginny’s appearance on the scene and the delusional belief that Greg believes Sheila to be Ginny’s mother, with Philip suddenly pretending to be her father.
Act Two is seemingly scheduled to be the catalyst for the characters to admit who they really are, or is it? Ayckbourn writes in such an imaginative and creative way; characters are evasive in order to be not to be evasive and hasty conclusions are drawn to obscure each other’s truth. Under the direction of Robin Herford, the audience is humorously engaged in the plot, with charades supposedly covering mistaken identities. This eventually leads to a discovery of a founded item at the very end of the plot – clearly obvious to the audience.
Relatively Speaking played a crucial role in society when it first premiered in 1967 and it is evident that Ayckbourn writes with the times as such themes are just as relevant today. The 1960s saw a shift in social changes and the onslaught challenge to traditional social conventions, particularly with unmarried couples cohabiting and 1967’s Summer of Love. The changing attitudes towards family planning and sexuality brought in major legislations that same year, even with unease from key players in society.
Peter Mckintosh’s staging includes a map curtain which cleverly illuminates the journey Ginny and Greg take from London to the countryside.
With a fairly slow start, one could be forgiven for thinking this story would end up being pretty uneventful. Gradually the audience is introduced to a flurry of innuendoes, metaphoric and indirect references that enrich the plot and suspense intensely. This excellent production guarantees laughter throughout, and there are exceptional and well-received characters portrayals from all the cast courtesy of Powell, Goddard, Campbell and Eden.
Touring Nationwide | Image: Contributed