Alan Ayckbourn delivers a rip roaring comedy of errors in one of his early plays, Relatively Speaking. Currently on tour around the UK, the King of Farces work is a genius piece of writing that doesn’t fail to amuse almost 50 years after it first took to the stage.
The latest production stars famous faces Robert Powell and Liza Goddard as middle-class husband and wife Phillip and Sheila whose leisurely Sunday afternoon gets interrupted by a young man with a huge case of mistaken identity.
Set in the 60s the play opens to reveal a cramped bedsit where we find new lovebirds Ginny (Lindsey Campbell) and Greg (Anthony Eden). Ginny is busy getting ready to visit her parents, whilst boyfriend Greg becomes increasingly annoying as he quizzes her over mysterious phone calls she has been getting, along with deliveries of flowers and chocolates.
Lindsey Campbell and Anthony Eden are superb as the young couple both creating well rounded characters and delivering huge dualogues with ease. It’s often hard to keep the audience’s attention when there are only two actors onstage for such a lengthy time but Campbell and Eden manage to keep you transfixed and eager to find out what is going to happen next.
Peter McKintosh does a great job of the set design, capturing the period with garish yellow print wallpaper that wouldn’t look out of place on a sixties record sleeve and posters highlighting the popular films of the time like Breakfast at Tiffany’s and A Hard Day’s Night. There is an awkward scene change when we move from crammed city bedsit to the picturesque countryside involving a full curtain closure and music for at least a couple of minutes, so much so you feel it might be an early interval. It’s quite a dramatic move for director Robin Herford to make and does jar the action. However, as the curtains eventually re open, you can appreciate why this is necessary as there’s an impressive backdrop of a detached house complete with French doors, patio, and garden furniture.
This signals the action moving to the upmarket home of Philip and Sheila who are enjoying reading the Sunday papers in the garden.
On press night Liza Goddard was unable to play the role of Sheila so understudy Sarah Simpkins stood in for her, doing a sterling job. It’s not often nowadays to see productions that have understudies for every role but Relatively Speaking does just that with a full set of actors available should the need arise. Simpkins facial expressions are priceless as she tries her best to fathom why young Greg has turned up on their doorstep and even more so when Ginny follows soon after. The laughter from the audience is constant, especially as you move into the second half of the play and the farcically action reaches its heights. Robert Powell demonstrates his acting prowess playing the ageing businessman who delights in winding up both his wife and those around him with dry wit and amusing frustration. There’s a moment when it looks as if Powell will corpse at the hilarious antics on display but the Salford born actor shows his professionalism and manages to hold it together.
Watching Relatively Speaking was the most fun I have had at the theatre in ages. Prepare to leave with sore sides from all the laughing you do during the two hours it is on stage. Thoroughly enjoyable, the play runs at The Lowry until Saturday 22nd October.