16 June 2008
Milton Keynes Theatre
The joy of the well-made play!
If there's anything that will make you give up any thoughts of ever writing a play, it's seeing one like this!
Alan Ayckbourn's 'Relatively Speaking' is so fantastically well-constructed that it made me want to cry - both with the pleasure of watching and the pain of it being something I could only hope to aspire to! And this was his FIRST major hit - it wasn't even written after loads of practice! Of course he's now written more than 60 plays and is one of Britain's most popular playwrights.
This one though was written in 1967, and while the plot is quite complex to explain, it is so beautifully laid out that the audience is able to work out what's going on little by little, at just the right pace, just as they need to. The characters of course are always a step behind and deliciously so too.
Basically, after a month long romance, Greg wants to marry Ginny. But Ginny’s former lover, Philip, who is a much older married man, is still sending her chocolates and flowers. Ginny also wants to get back the love letters she has sent to him before she can marry Greg.
One Sunday, Ginny tells Greg she is going to visit her parents but she doesn't want him to come as they wouldn't be expecting him and it would throw them. Finding an address on a cigarette packet Greg follows her to the house and it turns out that the inhabitants weren't expecting either of them! And unfortunately Greg arrives first!
What follows is a mixture of both joyous and excruciating exposition in a meticulously contructed play! It is quite simply a fabulous spider's web of misunderstandings where the sparkling dew hanging from it is the brilliant dialogue of cross-purposes that never flagged. The genius lies in the way that situations are only partially revealed and the two characters who are basically in the dark about their partners other lives, find out about them bit by bit.
I spent most of the play with the words, "Just TELL them" on the tip of my tongue, while marvelling at the mind who constructed the whole thing!
The cast of four in this production add to its excellence. Peter Bowles is superb as Phillip. He is a veteran and master of comedy but, even more than the perfect timing of the words, sometimes just a look or a raised eyebrow from him speaks a thousand words. He is indeed a national treasure. Diane Fletcher as his wife Sheila also turns in a flawless, assured performance.
Of the younger two, Robin Whiting as Greg is an enjoyable innocent, who always has everybody's best interests at heart and Siobhan Hewlett's Ginny clearly shows the quick thinking needed to deceive, something that Greg really should have taken heed of!
Designer Paul Farnsworth has created two wonderful sets for this production with the garish 1960s colouring of Ginny's bedsit, complete with posters of icons of that time, being in complete contrast to the beautiful Buckinghamshire country house garden, all of which ensures that the production is as enjoyable to
look at as it is to listen to!
In a telegram to Alan Ayckbourn after the play opened at the Duke of York's Theatre in 1967, Noel Coward wrote:
“All my congratulations on a beautifully constructed and very, very funny comedy I enjoyed every moment of it”
I couldn't put it better myself!