A tale of mistaken identities Relatively Speaking was Alan Ayckbourn’s seventh play but his first West End hit. Originally staged as all his plays have been in Scarborough in 1965 it opened in London in 1967 and received rave reviews. It is a flimsy as gossamer, has absolutely nothing to say about the human condition, and after a slightly sticky start spirals into hilarity unconfined. This latest revival directed by Robin Herford comes to Jermyn Street from The Mill at Sonning and the play proves to have weathered the years undamaged by the passage of time. One of the delights is that the text remains unchanged – we are in 1967 and when things like money are mentioned they are in the values of the time. It lends something extra. In addition the cast of four rise to the demands of the sort of play they don’t write any more.
If you are a devotee of the theatre of ideas this is not for you. It is totally trivial. The later Ayckbourn plays sometimes have quite a bleak undercurrent but this one is glad confident morning. Nobody gets hurt, everyone gets what they deserve, and there is no reason to care about any of them. They may or may not live happily ever after but that does not affect the laughter. They are puppets on a string being manipulated by Aycnnourn as each deceit leads to yet another one and to fresh confusion.
I took a little while to warm to Christopher Bonwell as Greg, a gauche young man with modest hopes in the role created by Richard Briers but as time went on he settled down. Lianne Harvey is suitably devious as the girlfriend, still be pursued by an older married man, who decides she will marry this new young man she has known for a month but when he finds a pair of slippers under her bed she lies about where they came from, about the flowers she keeps getting and the boxes of chocolate, and crucially about the address written on a cigarette pack. She claims to be going to visit her parents in the country and that is their address. She leaves, but he he decides to follow her and somehow or other gets there first. It is not her parent’s home but that of her former boss and lover and – it is a Sunday – she had gone to end it thinking his wife would be at church, but his wife has stayed home for once. James Simmons makes a splendidly louche deceiver, and is nicely randy as as the lover, and Rachel Fielding delivers a lesson in comic acting as the deceived wife Shiela. I am not quite sure that the final punch line works – it concerns those slippers – however that is by the by and this first rate revival of an often revived play is an evening of deceit and comic delight.
Greg: Christopher Bonnwell.
Sheila: Rachel Fielding.
Ginny: Lianne Harvey.
Philip: James Simmons.
Director: Robin Herford.
Designer: Michael Holt.
Costume Designer: Natalie Titchener.
Original Lighting Designer: Matthew Biss.