Reviewed by Malcolm Calder
By Alan Ayckbourn
Directed by Janice Finn
With Benjamin Murray, Michelle Blundell, Louise Wallace, Edwin Wright
Pumphouse Theatre, Takapuna
Until 14 May
Knowing this play is 55 years old, and not having seen it for many, many years, I decided to go back for a quick dip before committing to pen these words. Long regarded as one of England’s more outstanding playwrights of the twentieth century, Alan Ayckbourn created Relatively Speaking, a near-definitive comedy of manners in 1967, among the earliest of his 80-odd plays and his first big hit. I’m so glad I did, having forgotten at the marvel that is his structure, language and observations of human idiosyncracy. So I couldn’t wait to see what Janice Finn and a good, strong cast would do with it for Tadpole Productions. Well maybe not entirely, as Ayckbourn’s context is itself a bit passe well into the 21st Century and probably adds a bit more piquant layering all by itself,
Timing is everything in comedy and, judging by the sniggers, guffaws and belly laughs on opening night at the Pumphouse, comic-timing in this production is impeccable. That is largely down to Janice Finn who has pretty much played this the way it was written, supported by a talented cast who also know a thing or two about ironic comedy.
A gangling Benjamin Murray gave us a Greg who my mind suggested bore some kind of resemblance to a very very young Mick Jagger (although my accompanist felt Bowie was more apt) pursuing a Ginny (Michelle Blundell, who I had could have sworn I’d seen on TV only a couple of weeks previously in most of the obituary-clips about a young Mary Quant).
Generationally removed, Edwin Wright’s comic role of Philip manages to become confused, apoplectic and devious – sometimes all at the same time – playing it straight all the way without a shred of hamminess whatsoever. Sheila (“she costs me thirty quid a week to run and that doesn’t include overheads”) is his world-weary-wife, created with the classic skill, awe and sometimes stunned amazement that audiences have come to expect from Louise Wallace.
The tight stage and only two sets called for some deft and inexpensive design, that included a tiny London flat and a somewhat more spacious garden.
At the Pumphouse Theatre for another couple of weeks, Janice Finn’s production of Relatively Speaking for Tadpole is well worth a nostalgic night out that will leave you chuckling all the way home. There’s something rather comforting about a play that has been performed to packed houses since 1967, and especially one that can make even a well-chilled social media audience of today roll over with laughter.
Oh yes, what’s it all about ? Well, as Ayckbourn himself has witten …
“…The characters are not aware of their situation – or at least never for more than a few seconds at a time. Greg never knows what’s going on; Philip does for a few minutes … but by the end of the play he’s as baffled as ever; Ginny starts the ball rolling with the initial lie but … rapidly loses her grip on the situation; the irony of the play is that, at the end, it is Sheila who, ignorant of everything up to that point, suddenly realises the whole situation. Not only that, but for the first time she introduces with the last line of the play a plot element of her own invention”.
Sums it up really.
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One reply on “Alan Ayckbourn’s Nostalgic Delight”
Good. Dammit, remind me of her last line please…..