Theatre Royal Bath Productions has revived Relatively Speaking, Alan Ayckbourn's celebrated comedy, which is at Leeds Grand Theatre this week.
When Greg proposes to Ginny, he decides to secretly visit her parents for the first time. Following an address on the back of a cigarette packet, he finds his way to their home the break the good news. The problem is the address isn't that of her parents, rather the cosy detached home of his fiancée’s ex-flame Philip and his house proud wife Sheila.
Alan Ayckbourn's tightly constructed farce is a perfect example of a comedy of errors, escalating into a chaotic muddle of misidentity, false accusations and awkward back-pedalling. The tone of the play is light and good-mannered, ridiculing the eccentricity of middle England in the Sixties whilst demonstrating how courtesy and kindness can cause an awful lot of trouble and confusion.
Antony Eden plays Greg, a well-mannered and naive young businessman. Eden instantly wins the audience over with a risky visual gag - twisting his bed sheet into a giant nappy - which is something of a visual metaphor for the convoluted plot. Eden provides a youthful energy and goofiness to Greg, which is suitably offset by a cute and alert performance by Lindsey Campbell as Ginny, the girl with a bed full of secrets.
Robert Powell and Liza Goddard star as Philip and Sheila. Whilst there is little to like about Philip’s character, Powell brings an element of warmth and befuddlement to the role, which edges into compassion for a man who is suffering a midlife crisis in suburban hell; a sort of proto-Reginald Perrin. Liza Goddard as Sheila is radiantly charming, parodying the perfect hostess with relentless generosity. There is a vocal acuity to Goddard which sings in this play; every word is crisp and clearly nuanced and is the perfect complement to Powell's gruff and jaded older gent.
Robin Herford directs, ensuring naturalism and verisimilitude abides in a show which heavily relies on meticulous technical cues. Brimming with onstage business – real drinks and crockery abound – the play issues a tangible sense of domestic reality, providing purpose to the characters and allowing the farcical actions to reap in big laughs.
The charming tone of the play is visualised with evocative production design by Peter McKintosh. Highly detailed set pieces include a Sixties flat and an impressive exterior of a two-story home, further adding a sense of reality and cosiness to the location. The inviting, sun-drenched surroundings effectively dilute the bleaker aspects of the story – a cheating love triangle – which would feel far less benign in a harsher setting.
Relatively Speaking is a beautifully crafted comedy which is stylishly staged and sharply performed. Full of fodder for titters, the play is a pressure cooker of comedic intensity, providing irresistible episodes of explosive laughter. Cunningly complex yet comfortably amenable, Relatively Speaking is a cheerful cat-and-mouse comedy and is the perfect tonic to round off a Summer season.
Cast: Robert Powell, Liza Goddard, Lindsey Campbell, Antony Eden. Director: Robin Herford Theatre: Leeds Grand Theatre Duration: 120 minutes Dates: Tuesday 30th August – Saturday 3rd September 2016.
Originally published for Entertainment Focus.
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