Oh, a lovely bit of Ayckbourn! There is always something rather comforting about a piece of Ayckbourn’s cleverly observed writing, especially when it is produced and directed well. And that’s what we have here in this currently touring production. Set in a sunny summer’s weekend in the late Sixties, we meet Greg (Antony Eden) and Ginny (Lindsey Campbell). They have been together a month or so, but Greg is somewhat perturbed by the number of flowers and chocolates that seem to litter her apartment. When Ginny says she’s off to visit her parents for the day, Greg secretly follows her to ask for her hand in marriage. Unfortunately, he arrives before she does, finding a rather bemused Sheila (Liza Goddard) and her husband Philip (Robert Powell). As with all great farce, the twists and turns of it all slowly become apparent, as we realise Sheila and Philip are not Ginny’s parents after all…
This play still very much smacks of the time it was written as it unpicks the sexual revolution and challenges the social norms of the late Sixties. However, the real impact of that is somewhat lost underneath the farce now, simply due to the slow trudge of time. Here, what was once a fairly shocking look at modern relationships in the swinging sixties, is now the blueprint for every sitcom since then. So Greg and Ginny’s sexual relationship before marriage becomes less scandal, and more… well… normal. We also see where it is going long before it gets there, because we’ve seen this particular joke a hundred times in everything from Eastenders to Friends. But that is not to detract from the humour, or the excellent performances, and just underscores how much of an impact this piece originally had.
This piece really relies on a strong ensemble cast to sell the reactions to each mistaken identity and keep clear who knows what when. This cast are exceptionally good, particularly Anthony Eden as the Labrador-like Greg. Eden particularly shines in the section where he passive-aggressively tries to determine the real facts about Ginny’s past, lightening up a rather turgid Act One. Mention should also be made of Liza Goddard, who manages to play what could be a fairly two-dimensionally “ditzy woman” with a real layer of intelligence underneath her naïve exterior. Of course, Robert Powell delivers a top-notch performance, and Lindsey Campbell makes a brilliantly elusive and quick-witted Ginny. A wonderful ensemble – fabulous Casting Director Ginny Schiller does it again! Robin Herford also shows a brilliant understanding of farce and doors, quite tricky when most of your play is set outside in a garden, and choreographs his actors beautifully.
The design from Peter McKintosh is simple, yet effective. There’s a nice touch in seeing a huge map of London and the Home Counties light up as we follow Greg and Ginny’s travels to The Willows, between Act One and Two. The sets themselves are sturdy and functional – Ginny’s flat perfectly encapsulating the ‘cool young girl about town’ with its film posters and geometric furnishings, whilst Philip and Sheila’s giant home with perfectly manicured lawn screams suburbia.
Although this is never going to be seen as a particularly controversial or thought-provoking play now, it stands firm as an enjoyable slice of English theatre history. It’s not unlike watching old sitcoms on a Sunday afternoon with your Dad – who would probably love it by the way. (Mine certainly did!) If you’re after a light, easy watch, full of laughs, Relatively Speaking should steer you right.
Milton Keynes Theatre
14th - 19th November, 2016
Then continuing on tour.
© Carly Halse - Reviewed on Monday 14th November 2016.