John O’Brien, my friend, reviewed “Relatively Speaking” by Alan Ayckbourn at the Richmond Theatre last night, his 1967 play:-
It is a comedy in a brilliant production directed by Robin Herford. I haven’t had a better two hours in the theatre. It is the perfect comedy and a wonderful way to pass two hours. There is a reason Ayckbourn is so popular : He’s funny. He gets laughs. He can make an audience laugh until it hurts. If you’ve never been to an Ayckbourn play then go to “Relatively Speaking” – it’s his first play and a masterpiece. If you know his work well go anyway and remind yourself why Ayckbourn is so good.
The performances From Robert Powell as the cheating husband Philip, Liza Goddard as the suburban housewife Sheila, Lindsay Campbell as the girl in the middle, Ginny and Antony Eden as the naïve younger man Greg are all superb and surely rank alongside the legendary opening night cast back in 1967 of Celia Johnson, Michael Horden, Richard Briers and Jennifer Hilary. If you doubt me then listen to Noel Coward who sent this telegram to the 27 year old Ayckbourn on the opening night at the Duke Of York’s on the 2nd May 1967.
“Dear Alan all my congratulations on a beautifully constructed and very, very funny comedy I enjoyed every moment of it.”
We can see in that telegram the baton of English Comedy being passed from Noel Coward onto Alan Ayckbourn. Coward mentioned the construction of the play and that is one of Ayckbourn’s dazzling gifts; the way he constructs intricate plots. “Relatively Speaking” is spell-binding in the way it unfolds. The use of the telephone, the slippers, the garden hoe, he turns all of these unlikely props into moments of comedy magic. The use of misunderstanding to drive the play relentlessly forward for two hours has to be seen to be believed.
The second aspect Coward praised was how funny it is. And that’s absolutely true. Ayckbourn is the funniest playwright. His wit, humour and comic timing are wonderful. Of course these qualities depend on superb actors to bring them alive on stage and as I say this cast is top notch. Robert Powell coming to terms with the fact that his seemingly boring wife not only has a young lover but has had at least 5 others; “one a gentleman of eighty” is just one of the highlights in an evening full of not just laughs, but side splitting laughs of utter hilarity. Never has suburbia been rendered so surreal, so absurd and so funny.
As soon as I came out of Richmond theatre I wanted to go and see it again. So I would highly recommend that you get off the sofa, leave your screens behind, take an autumnal walk to Richmond Theatre and be entertained by our great living dramatist.