SIDMOUTH – SIDMOUTH SUMMER PLAY FESTIVAL
MANOR PAVILION THEATRE
HOW THE OTHER HALF LOVES by Alan Ayckbourn
2 hours 35 minutes – 1 interval
Manor Pavilion Theatre Box Office – 01395 514413
REVIEW – CORMAC RICHARDS – 29 AUGUST 2022
Only last week it was announced that Alan Ayckbourn’s 87th play was due to open. Up and down the country and across the world his plays are regularly performed and have won multiple awards over his career of 60 years.
Ayckbourn’s gift is to take relationships and place them in front of audiences, knowing that he can hit the funny nerve by just tweaking what is familiar with a mixture of exaggeration and coincidence. HOW THE OTHER HALF LOVES takes us all the way back to 1969; this was the play that many believe launched his career into the stratosphere; times have changed since then, but the actions of the human haven’t.
Ever inventive, the writer presents two sets in one – the smart, neat home of The Fosters is combined with the chaotic surroundings of the Phillips family – it is a clever conceit and one which set designer Andrew Beckett executes so very effectively. Action happens simultaneously on the stage with actors in the different rooms oblivious and skilfully avoiding each other as they negotiate props and furniture. Sounds confusing? Amazingly, it works like a treat and the audience soon picks things up.
Plotwise, this is both simple and complex – typical Ayckbourn – so Fiona Foster is having an affair with Bob Phillips, to cover their tracks with their respective married partner’s they both invent a lie concerning the marriage of mutual acquaintances William and Mary Featherstone. The execution of the action requires of six to be totally on the ball – not least in the second scene where two meals take place at the same table at the same time – it is a joy and a wonder to behold.
Rob McWhir is blessed with a cracking cast and a lucid mind which ensures the audience are never left in the dark as to what on earth is happening; it is a slick, smart and very funny production.
Sam Ellis appears to be hewn out of the world of Ayckbourn; as businessman Frank Foster he gives a masterly performance, full of half-pauses and hestitations and as he dons the ‘detective’ role to try and unravel what is going on, he only makes matters worse. Claire Louise Amias is full of poise and elegance as his unfaithful wife; apparently in full control, as she gets into deeper water her irresistible performance gathers more and more laughs. Rosie Edwards is thoroughly convincing as the stressed wife and mother Teresa; her descent into frustration and violence is beautifully comic. Equally convincing is Mark Laverty as her husband, Bob; lary, loud and pretty obnoxious; always less easy to pull off an unsympathetic character but such is the versatility of the actor he is totally ‘en pointe’. Likewise, Tom Willshire, pulls off the controlling, rather dim, William with great skill; the actor’s face as he finds himself drawn into a situation which he cannot understand, is a lesson in visual confusion. Giving a comic gem of a performance is Rachel Fletcher-Hudson as the meek and mousey Mary; full of little noises and coy movements it generates both laughs and pity – beautifully well-observed and eye-catching work.
As mentioned earlier, times have changed since this play was first produced and occasionally the language is uncomfortable on the ear – not least the reaction of one character to the question of what he would do if he found his wife having an affair. It may be of the time, but it doesn’t sit well today.
But make no mistake this is a classy and laugh-out-loud production of a very difficult play to pull off effectively. To succeed in doing so after just five days rehearsal is nothing short of a minor miracle and if you are looking for something to stretch your laughter lines then you will feel yourself well blessed by seeing it.
CAST & CREATIVES
FRANK FOSTER – SAM ELLIS
FIONA FOSTER – CLAIRE LOUISE AMIAS
TERESA PHILIPS – ROSIE EDWARDS
BOB PHILIPS – MARK LAVERTY
WILLIAM FEATHERSTONE – TOM WILLSHIRE
MARY FEATHERSTONE – RACHEL FLETCHER-HUDSON
WRITER – ALAN AYCKBOURN
DIRECTOR – ROB MCWHIR
DESIGN – ANDREW BECKETT
LIGHTING & SOUND OPERATION & DESIGN – JOE UNDERWOOD
COSTUME SUPERVISOR – JANET HUCKLE
ARTISTIC DIRECTOR – PAUL TAYLOR-MILLS
SEASON PRODUCER – CLAIRE EVANS