How the Other Half Loves at Duke of York’s Theatre
Alan Ayckbourn’s 1969 play, How the Other Half Loves, was first performed in Scarborough and centres around two families, a love affair, manners and the English class system. In this, as much as everything else, it is a classic of its time. Brought back to the West End with all the desired pomp and exuberance by Acykbourn’s longtime friend and director Alan Strachan, the play may leave some audiences whooping with joy or choking with laughter, and may leave others lukewarm.
Revolving around a love affair between two classes, How the Other Half Lives is a comic – and often very wry – observation of England in the 1960s, with all of its wartime norms still intact, but with the sexual revolution clearly starting to niggle beneath the surface – a slow realisation that the world is changing. Nicholas Le Prevost steals the show as Frank Foster, the well-meaning but bumbling old gentleman who, whilst constantly trying to do his best, makes a hash of it all with hilarious results. He melds both comic dialogue, timing and actions seamlessly, and it is fair to say that nobody else has ever made a stop clock in a cup of coffee more laugh-out-loud funny. Gillian Wright, best known for her role as Jean Slater in Eastenders, is also a standout, with her terminally shy Mary Featherstone eventually stealing the show during the play’s denouement.
Like several of his contemporaries, whilst Ayckbourn was somewhat ahead of his time, any notions of proto-feminism or the kind of liberalism contemporary audiences are used to give way to the comedy of manners that is essentially the blueprint of How the Other Half Loves. If you are fan of Sheridan or Wilde, you’ll love this; but if you can’t get over the Carry On nature of the humour, or the period feel of the play, you will undoubtedly come out having not been sold.
The production won’t convert anybody to its cause who wasn’t convinced before they walked in, but that’s kind of the point. How the Other Half Loves is still two and a half hours of the best, and most pointed, comedy drama you could happen to see this summer, and this new revival deserves more than its glass of sherry.
How the Other Half Loves is on at the Duke of York’s Theatre from 7th July until 1st October. Book your tickets here.