by Alan Ayckbourn.

Watermill Theatre Bagnor RG20 8AE To 26 March 2011.
Mon-Sat 7.30pm Mat Thu & Sat 2.30pm Saturday 26 March except 26 March at 1.30pm and 6.30pm.
Audio-described 10 March 2.30pm (+ Touch Toiur 12.30pm)
BSL Signed 14 March.
Runs 2hr15min One interval.

TICKETS: 01635 46044.
Review: Mark Courtice 21 February.

A Classy couple of hours.
Just now there is a fashion for the lesser-known Ayckbourns, with a revival of Oh Jeeves! at the Landor Theatre in London and the capital’s first viewing of Snake in the Grass at the Print Room. Here in Newbury, it’s an old favourite from 1967.

And it is a delight. Fiendishly clever, wise about human nature, and very funny – this is classy stuff.

Gawky Greg ventures to bosky Buckinghamshire to see if he can encourage Ginny to marry him by winning over her parents. In fact, the address he’s got is that of her boss and lover Philip. Ginny herself is coming down to break it all off. Philip’s wife Sheila must cope with her suspicions, her husband’s uncertain temper, and two young visitors she’s never met before.

For two brilliantly written hours Ayckbourn sustains a sequence of misunderstandings; every time it seems that the truth must come out either the adulterers tell another desperate fib or polite reticence means someone assumes, rather than asks. This isn’t just clever plotting, it’s consistent with character too.

Orla O’Louglin’s production pushes hard for the laughs. There’s lots of energy and colour, but some subtlety is lost. Each scene change doesn’t need the Beatles’ ‘All You Need is Love’ to point up the period. Anthony Lamble’s bed-sit set at the opening is not just cluttered, but full of every 60s visual cliché. The moment when it opens out to become a summer garden is neat and ingenious, however.

The performances tend towards the broad brush, in Greg Haiste’s case informed by a manic physicality. But it’s Gillian Bevan as Sheila who gives a master class in acting Ayckbourn. Her performance is luminous, intelligent, accurate and very funny. There is no need for frantic mugging, or signalling jokes – just a neat skewering of a woman facing meltdown with polite middle class bafflement.

Relatively Speaking is not just a clever exercise of plotting, nor is the morality delivered with a heavy hand, but being both clever and moral this is a very satisfying night at the theatre.

Philip: David Acton.
Ginny: Ellie Beaven.
Sheila: Gillian Bevan.
Greg: Greg Haiste.

Director: Orla O’Loughlin.
Designer: Anthony Lamble.
Lighting: Philip Gladwell.

2011-02-23 14:47:46

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