A comedy of confusion, Relatively Speaking is set on a lazy summer Sunday in the late 60's. Ginny has fallen in love with Greg and wants Philip to leave her alone. So she sets off to see Philip and tell him once-and-for-all. Greg thinks she's visiting her parents and discovers Philips address so decides to pay a surprise visit and ask for her hand. For once, Philip's wife is still at home when Greg arrives before Ginny.
Lindsay Posner's revival of Alan Ayckbourn's Relatively Speaking opened at the Wyndham's Theatre last night (20 May 2013).
The play was Ayckbourn's first major success in 1965, and follows Ginny and Greg over a summer's weekend, revealing the twists and secrets that accompany spontaneous relationships, resulting in a quintessentially English comedy.
The cast comprises Felicity Kendal, Jonathan Coy, Kara Tointon and Max Bennett. It runs until 31 August 2013.
Goodness knows why Alan Ayckbourn's debut success has had to wait 46 years for its first West End revival... short, sweet and savage... It’s an expertly-constructed laugh-fest that punches way above its weight... Felicity Kendal... her performance as Sheila, the supposed mother, is a masterclass in pace, timing and killer moments... Max Bennett with a dash of the sardonic and bundles of charm... Kara Tointon making the best of her underwritten role as his field-playing lover... Age has not withered Relatively Speaking; it's what it always was - a timeless comedy of sex, sherry and a tell-tale pair of slippers.
...bang on the money…ingenious comic joy... this early play is already tinged with a touch of Ayckbourn’s characteristic darkness. The comedy is so clever, and the laughter so frequent… Lindsay Posner’s production goes with a real swing… Felicity Kendal is a merrily gurgling delight as the confused, good-natured Sheila… Jonathan Coy is all self-righteous, pink-faced indignation as her husband…Max Bennett memorably captures the confusion of the gawky young innocent abroad…Kara Tointon is both sexy and devious as the woman he loves…This is a brilliantly witty comedy, but it leaves a bitter, lingering aftertaste.
…Lindsay Posner's witty production, I was reminded of the play's brilliance as a theatrical construct… Ayckbourn showed that he could conjure laughter out of marital misery, and the actors in Posner's production are all the funnier for playing the situation for real. Felicity Kendal's excellent Sheila looks genuinely wounded … Kendal scoops up a lot of laughs … Jonathan Coy's Philip is a comic figure… Max Bennett has the right bemused innocence… Kara Tointon subtly hints at Ginny's sexual experience… delightfully done, the evening's success is due to Ayckbourn, whom we consistently underestimate. He is as funny as any of the classic comedy writers and, in this early piece, showed how prolonged misunderstanding can become a source of painful truth.
Libby Purves The Times ★★★★
...utterly British romp deftly directed by Lindsay Posner and led by two beloved TV players… verbal farce of social misunderstanding is intriguing as well as enduringly funny… Thus with elegant Ayckbournian cunning, hysteria rises from beneath the wisteria… The nuances are well taken: Max Bennett as young Greg deploys just enough of an Estuary twang… Felicity Kendal as the rural hausfrau is perfect, a woman conditioned to smoothing male feathers… But when, in the final moments, the worm turns she deploys a fine wounded wifely steeliness. Meanwhile Coy gives good bluster, and Kara Tointon is a credible secretary-bird on the cusp of liberation.
... The play is cleverly constructed, and after a rather flat first 20 minutes the pace increases and Ayckbourn’s deftness becomes clear. The actors all find the right sort of tone … Lindsay Posner’s revival delights in the blandness of suburban life, evoked by Peter McKintosh’s neat and deliberately shallow design. Bennett reveals an engaging comic side. Tointon gives a performance that’s poised even if a bit one-note. And while the decision to cast Kendal and Coy as a married couple isn’t ideal, both display sharp timing… What’s missing is real charm… It also lacks that touch of madness necessary for perfect farce…. Englishness, at times ripely amusing. Yet for all Ayckbourn’s craft it strains credibility, and too many of the jokes are predictable.
Goodness knows why Alan Ayckbourn's debut success has had to wait 46 years for its first West End revival.
Relatively Speaking, short, sweet and savage, has been a regional stand-by for decades for two very good reasons: it's an expertly-constructed laugh-fest that punches way above its weight, while its modest constituents (two sets, four actors) are just the thing for theatres in cash-strapped times.
Lindsay Posner's revival freezes the play in 1965, the year it was written, and reveals that even as a 20-something writer Ayckbourn had pinpointed genteel suburbia as a hotbed of infidelity and desperate housewives. The darkness of the playwright's later work is already present in this sunny tale of mistaken identities, with at least two of the characters behaving exceptionally badly towards their partners.
Mysterious phone calls and an ever-growing mountain of flowers and chocolates make young Greg fear the worst about Ginny. Worried that his girlfriend may be seeing a bit on the side, he follows her to what she claims to be her parents' house in the Ayckbournian town of Lower Pendon, Bucks. He's reassured by the respectable middle-aged couple he encounters there; but Ginny's notional parents have secrets of their own.
Like his contemporary Tom Stoppard, the young Ayckbourn was in starry-eyed love with language and as early as Relatively Speaking his ear for the absurd in mundane conversation was attuned. Felicity Kendal's name is synonymous with both playwrights so it comes as a surprise to learn that this is her first appearance in an Ayckbourn play since The Norman Conquests in 1973. Our loss, for her performance as Sheila, the supposed mother, is a masterclass in pace, timing and killer moments.
[WOS_QU@TE]#Age has not withered Relatively Speaking[/WOS_QU@TE]
It was Kendal's screen husband from The Good Life, the late Richard Briers, who played Greg in the first production. That role is now taken by Max Bennett with a dash of the sardonic and bundles of charm whether in or out of his togs, with Kara Tointon making the best of her underwritten role as his field-playing lover.
As the egregious Philip, Jonathan Coy has some startling scenes when he lurches from bumbling husband to scorned lover; when his blood is up the Downton Abbey star is as horrifying as he is hilarious in his red-faced spluttering.
Peter McKintosh has recreated the very worst of 1960s middle England in his designs (Philip's manicured garden is antiseptically hideous) but even these meticulous trappings are of secondary importance to the sweetly-layered performances Posner elicits from his quartet of actors.
Age has not withered Relatively Speaking; it's what it always was - a timeless comedy of sex, sherry and a tell-tale pair of slippers.
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