ComedyReviewSouth West

Relatively Speaking – Theatre Royal, Bath

Writer: Alan Ayckbourn
Director: Robin Herford
Reviewer: Harry Mottram 

Would a fat, badly dressed, grumpy old man really pull an attractive young woman 30 years younger than him? If he was stylish, well-groomed and sophisticated with pots of money – maybe. But a gone-to-seed Robert Powell playing a boring middle-aged grouch – no. And that is the central problem of this creaking revival of Alan Ayckbourn’s 1960s hit play. It is impossible to believe in the relationship between Philip the older man, and Ginny played by Lindsey Campbell.

The strength of the (now period piece) farce is Ayckbourn’s script. A tightly plotted drama, ingeniously written dialogue, and four characters whose failure to ever quite express themselves leads to constant misunderstands. Inspired by the habit of the British to never finish their sentences the play is extremely funny, although in this production not funny enough. And despite the slightly going-through-the-motions feeling of much of the show the cast of four cannot fail to get laughs from the killer lines and verbal confusions.

If the chemistry between Powell and Campbell is non-existent then her relationship and the heated argument she has at the beginning with her boyfriend Greg also lacks any believability. There needs to be an injection of pace and passion in the exchanges rather than a slightly flat feeling without  emotion two lovers usually create. The chemistry just isn’t there.

A packed house, an appreciative audience, a fantastic set by thePeter McKintosh, and professional actors should have meant a five-star production. Is the stage too large, the company a bit complacent or the director at fault for not firing up the cast enough, or Ginny Schiller the casting director unable to find the right formula? Partly it is all of these things and maybe the jokes and references are so set in aspic that the play is like a Victorian music hall joke: it’s lost its meaning. After all Relatively Speaking comes out of a blend of kitchen sink drama and well-made plays written in the early 1960s but drawn from the 1950s at a time when living in sin was thought shocking.

Those thoughts aside, Antony Eden as Greg certainly gives it his best shot as the comic lover misconstruing every conversation, and Liza Goddard shows she’s still got it with a measured performance as the nice-but-dim housewife. Powell’s delivery is fine (if it was a radio play) but is badly miscast, while Campbell does her best, but lacks the 1960s sex bomb persona the part requires. The production has been on the road for weeks with this the final few days in Bath. Normally a cast will get a second wind as they near the end of a run with the prospect of heightened performances as they look forward to the last night party – but not here. There seems a tiredness to a production that seems well past its sell-by date.

Runs until 3 December 2016 | Image: Contributed

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