REVIEW: How the Other Half Loves (Theatre Royal Haymarket)

Awkward situations. Perhaps one of the worst case scenarios for the stereotypical British person. We don’t handle them well and if we do find ourselves in said awkward situation, we tend to ignore it. However, in the theatre we adore them, especially the humour that arises from them.

Alan Ayckbourn writes awkward scenes extremely well and they feature in many of his plays. How the Other Half Loves is no different, taking characters who are acquainted with each other, but not great friends, and thrusting them together in an uncomfortable environment.

Fiona Foster (Jenny Seagrove) is having an affair with Bob Phillips (Jason Merrells). To cover up for their unaccountable movements, they both claim to their spouses (Nicholas Le Provost and Tamzin Outhwaite) that they were with one of the Featherstones – a dull, harmless couple.

However, the three men all work for the same company and the web of lies spun by Fiona and Bob starts to unravel when their spouses invite the Featherstones to dinner. As relationship secrets are revealed and situations are misinterpreted, hilarity ensues.

What is particularly interesting about this play is the set and staging and Julie Godfrey is to be commended for her excellent designs. Instead of having each house on a different part of the stage, the homes of the Fosters and Phillips are incorporated into one set: half a blue sofa sits next to half an orange sofa; grand wooden beams sit majestically next to tatty wallpaper.

Director Alan Strachan admits it is a complicated play as actors must pass within inches of each other without acknowledgment.

This is made extremely obvious during the dinner party scene. William and Mary Featherstone (Matthew Cottle and Gillian Wright) spend consecutive evenings at dinner parties, but they are both shown together. It’s one of the funniest scenes as they react to the different couples’ activity. Their timing is excellent and their facial expressions spot on as they twist their chairs and eat two very different dinners. Gillian Wright is perfect as nervous Mary both physically and verbally, while Matthew Cottle’s discreet gestures really make the character.

Jenny Seagrove and Nicholas Le Provost have excellent awkward chemistry, as she carries on being the perfect wife and hostess, despite her irritation with her forgetful husband who causes half of the characters’ problems by misinterpreting the situation.

There’s not a lot to fault with this play. The writing is funny, although not hilarious, and the actors are excellent. It plays on British stereotypes and how we see ourselves and other people. While this works extremely well, it is perhaps only funny if you are actually British.

Reviewed by Michaela Clement-Hayes
Photo: Alastair Muir