Relatively Speaking

Rating ****
Reviewed by Tony Peters

Following on from Absent Friends and A Chorus of Disapproval, the Alan Ayckbourn revival continues with this beautifully played production of his very first West End hit in 1967.

Director Lindsay Posner retains the late 1960s setting, with just a couple of lines cut from the script that, with the passage of time, proved to be a bit baffling for modern audiences on the pre-West End tryout.

Such is the gentleness of the comedy here it’s hard to believe close to fifty years on that the play was a touch controversial in its day for the depiction of two people apparently living together out of wedlock.

This shock horror scenario aside, the play is set in the familiar Ayckbourn territory of behind-the-lace-curtains suburbia where Ginny (Kara Tointon), a modern girl with a series of affairs to her name, is just about to leave for a visit to her parents when live-in lover Greg (Max Bennett) pops the question.

When he doesn’t get an immediate answer to his proposal, Greg follows Ginny in the hope of securing mum and dad’s approval of the nuptials.

Needless to say, nothing, and indeed no-one, is as it seems and when the two couples meet, confusion is piled upon misunderstanding and topped off with mistaken identity as it transpires that everyone is embroiled in secrets and lies.

It’s a masterfully constructed piece and the performances from the four cast members are pitched just about perfectly. Bennett is extremely likeable as the innocent catalyst of all that follows and is like a great big puppy in his desire to do the right thing and be everyone’s friend.

Appearing in her second Ayckbourn production after last year’s Absent Friends, Kara Tointon is delightfully devious as Ginny, proving she has left Albert Square far behind and developed into one of our defter light comediennes.

But it’s the two older cast members; Felicity Kendal and Jonathan Coy as Ginny’s “parents” who show how it’s done. Coy rather channels Basil Fawlty in moments of suppressed rage, but is perfect as the hypocritical middle-class father, while Kendal is on supreme form as Sheila; befuddled and bewildered, but safe in the knowledge that every problem how ever severe can be solved by lunch, tea or another sherry.

Director Posner resists the temptation to make it all too frantic and masterfully builds the play from a slow-burn start through to a climax that showcases Ayckbourn’s terrific dialogue. He could have quite a future.

Written by Alan Ayckbourn
Directed by Lindsay Posner

Greg​ – Max Bennett
Ginny – ​Kara Tointon
Sheila – ​Felicity Kendal
Philip​ – Jonathan Coy