Relatively Speaking at Wyndham’s Theatre
Forty-six years after its London premiere, Alan Ayckbourn’s first major critical success (which earned him a congratulatory telegram from Noël Coward) is revived here in all its 60s glory. Starring a sparkling and instantly lovable Felicity Kendal, Ayckbourn’s lighthearted comedy tracks the confusions, deceptions, and misunderstandings of two couples at opposing ends of married life.
The curtain rises on the flat of Ginny and Greg, a young couple, a month into their relationship. Greg, naive, besotted, and proposing marriage, suspects Ginny of carrying on with someone else due to the many bunches of flowers strewn about the flat, and the rather large slippers he finds under her bed. Anxious to lock the deal down, he follows her to what he believes is her parents’ house in Buckinghamshire – in reality the home of her older lover Philip, from whom she wants to separate once and for all. Arriving before her, Greg sets off a comical chain of confusion as Philip takes him for his wife’s lover, come to steal her away.
While the first scene in London falls a little flat and is much lighter on laughs than what follows, the scenes in Bucks hit the right note from the first marmalade joke. This is partly due to Kendal’s comic timing, but also because Ayckbourn is able to mine much richer seams from the relationship of a long-married, long-suffering couple than a young, optimistic one. While the older couple gets the majority of the laughs, the younger illustrates for us the social changes of the 60s. For the first time in British history, women were able to have sex before marriage without being shamed into social exclusion, and Kara Tointon portrays Ginny as a confident young woman out to get what she wants from life – a character in direct contrast to Kendal’s Sheila who lays out her husband’s clothes and cleans the bath out after him.
Despite everyone (bar Greg) being overly reliant on deception as a means of self-preservation, Ayckbourn’s play is, at its heart, a warm-hearted and affectionate one, in which the tensions of married life in middle-class middle England are made fun of ever so gently. This makes for a fun and pleasant evening’s entertainment, if not quite an earth-shattering one.
Relatively Speaking is at Wyndham’s Theatre until 31st August 2013. For further information or to book visit the show’s website here.