Alan Ayckbourn Oldham Coliseum 20 April 2018 to 05 May 2018
So, an Ayckbourn then: quite a rarity these days. Time was when the Scarborough maestro was the second most performed playwright in the world after Shakespeare. Not any more and regarded now by a younger generation of theatregoers as old hat, which is a pity because while I definitely don’t want to return to season after season packed with his work, disinterring the occasional gem is, I think, a good idea.
Relatively Speaking isn’t just any old Ayckbourn, it’s his first big success, from 1965, the one that went on from the Yorkshire seaside to the West End and established his reputation.
And at the helm here isn’t just any old director either, as Robin Herford is a long time close associate of the author and is steeped in the traditions.
In a London bedsit we meet Ginny (Lianne Harvey) and Greg (Matt Connor). It’s early in the morning, Greg is still in bed while Ginny is getting ready to catch a train out of town to see her parents.
When Greg answers the phone, the caller hangs up. And what about those bunches of flowers all over the place and the rather large slippers under the bed, not to mention the boxes of chocolates? Greg is getting suspicious and when Ginny leaves for her parents’ house he decides to follow her.
However, the address he’s sussed out isn’t that of her parents but of her married boss Philip (Crispin Letts) with whom Ginny has been having an affair she now intends ending.
To totally complicate matters and set up the intricate confusions that follow, Greg manages to get to Philip’s house before Ginny and meets Philip’s wife Susan (Jo Mousley), thinking the pair of them are Ginny’s parents. Still with me? Well, confusion here is very much the name of Ayckbourn’s game…
Although it’s lighter in tone than many of the later plays there’s plenty of middle-class marital angst amongst the comedy, and lots of barbs hurled around by the older pair. And the cast is pretty much spot on throughout, with pretty impeccable timing.
But despite the intricate, often quite brilliant plotting, the piece overall is showing its age. Herford quite rightly keeps it in the sixties – appropriate posters on the walls of the bedsit, mini skirt and white boots for Ginny – but it hasn’t anymore the shock of the new re its sexual outlook and, above all, it could do with some pruning.
The first scene in the bedsit was always the slightly draggy opener you had to get through before the laughs in the countryside but it now does seem too laboured and I didn’t actually laugh out loud until half way through the second scene, when Letts’ astonished husband, having learned that his wife is a multiple philanderer, suddenly sees her in a completely different light.
Impressive country house exterior from Michael Holt and overall, it's a pleasant change to enjoy an evening at the theatre that isn’t trying too hard to put across an Important Message.