HOW THE OTHER HALF LOVES
by Alan Ayckbourn
Palace Theatre to 22 September 2001
Runs 2hr 40min One interval
TICKETS 01923 225671
Review Timothy Ramsden 12 September
Richard Beecham’s lively production revisits the land of flares, its observation of middle-class ways fascinatingly contrasting Ayckbourn’s recent plays with their wider scope, deeper focus and comment on modern life.How long ago it was, when telephones had to be laboriously dialled and there was no last number recall to aid the suspicious spouse. How a cream ‘phone declared sophistication, or a red one screamed defiance at convention.
Ayckbourn was playing games with stage convention in this punningly-titled play, its set a patchwork of elegance and scruffiness, representing at once the living-rooms of the middle-aged Fosters and the young Phillips. The first-act ending, where their visitors, the hapless Featherstones, swing between the simultaneously portrayed Thursday dinner at the Fosters and Friday’s with the Phillips, is a tour de force. But all the plotting is ingenious, even if the repeated cross-purpose passages stretch credibility as Ayckbourn never would today.
Beecham focuses lighting on the ‘phones during the set adaptations, which are bounced along by breezy music. That’s especially true before the dinner-parties, where the two wives’ devoted table-dressing reminds how domestic responsibilities have changed since 1972. Such points hit the period more than the usual costume overdrive the ’70s inspires.
It’s all very bright and often very funny. Fenella Woolgar is excellent as the most deeply felt character, the young wife Teresa Phillips, who realises the truth about her husband’s liaison with Fiona Mollison’s assured Fiona Foster. And Mike Burnside is outstanding as the shuffling office boss who sums up the shortcomings of British industry in those pre-shakeout days. Missing the truth under his nose, wading in to sort out other people’s wrongly diagnosed problems, inept with anything the least practical, Burnside perceptively injects a few forceful moments into his otherwise bumbling character.
As the Featherstones William Oxborrow makes comic play with William’s blindness to his limitations while his gesticulating silence when Debra Penny’s Mary finally asserts her dignity and demands an apology is a joy to behold.