Writer: Alan Ayckbourn
Director: Robin Herford
Reviewer: Dan English
In Relatively Speaking, the quintessential British comedy, there are mistaken identities aplenty, which now reaches Canterbury’s Marlowe Theatre as part of its UK tour.
Written by Alan Ayckbourn, Relatively Speaking sees besotted but insecure Greg (Antony Eden) resolve to marry his girlfriend of just a month, Ginny (Lindsey Campbell). The two hour comedy, directed by Robin Herford, sees Greg follow Ginny to what he thinks is her parents house, without her knowledge, to ask for her father’s permission, but instead the hapless groom-to-be arrives at Philip (Robert Powell) and Sheila (Liza Goddard), where their entangled lives begin to unravel.
Powell’s forever bitter Philip is a joy throughout this production. In this performance, Powell encapsulates perfectly the shift from a middle-aged gentleman, desperate to tend to his garden but with a secret to hide, through to the man wanting to cling onto the marriage he already has.
Powell’s comic timing suits Ayckbourn’s script, with his slick and sharp-witted delivery of Philip’s most scathing lines, particularly to his wife, providing both winces and laughter to the audience. As Philip’s lies begin to catch up with him, it is refreshing to see Powell’s Philip embrace the confusion that surrounds him, with his interaction with Campbell providing great comic entertainment.
Antony Eden’s Greg is perfectly clueless to the lies and double lives around him, with Eden’s paces delivery capturing the hapless nature of his wonderfully innocent character. Eden’s battles with Powell as he attempts to ask for Ginny’s hand in marriage are a delight, with the pair bouncing between each other well to execute Ayckbourn’s dialogue. There is a danger, at times, of this production losing its pace, but it is saved by Eden’s exhausting performance as Greg as he flies across the stage throughout.
As Ginny, Campbell does well to create a character that is charming and likeable, yet fundamentally untrustworthy also. while perhaps a little short on comic dialogue, what Campbell does do well is help drive the plot along. There are some well-crafted scenes between both her and Eden and her and Powell which, while not necessarily the most amusing of sections, do go someway to establishing the backstories for both pairs of characters.
Goddard’s Sheila is Philip’s long-suffering wife and Goddard does well to show a wife who is no longer concerned about her husband’s grumpy nature. There is great chemistry between Goddard and Powell, with the power struggle regarding who is the more dominant spouse clear to see in this comedy. What’s more, Goddard’s tireless performance is the reason this particular production holds so well. It is Goddard who helps tie a lot of the plot together, and while others help drive it along, it is Goddard’s Sheila that neatens the whole mess out.
Peter McKintosh’s design switches from Ginny’s small flat to Philip and lavish village home and what (designer) does capture well in their design is the grandeur of the house. From all angles of the auditorium, the picturesque country home fills the stage dominating the performance space, yet it does not feel overbearing, nor does it disrupt the performances of the performers. The intricacies of the design do help to set the period of the piece too, particularly in Ginny’s flat with the floral designs and film posters transporting us back to the Swinging Sixties.
There are certain aspects of the production that fall flat, particularly some of the quick fire dialogue that seems to get lost, with a minority of the wit seemingly suited more so to the original 1967 audience than a modern day one. That said, there is something overpoweringly charming about the production, that does not fail to leave the spectator smiling as it meets its bittersweet ending. This is a well-crafted and well-executed production that succeeds largely thanks to the talents of its performers who deliver every punchline with exquisite timing and a warm charm.
Runs until 1 October 2016 | Image: Contributed