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Manchester theatre reviews

Relatively Speaking

Relatively Speaking

by Alan Ayckbourn

at Oldham Coliseum

Reviewed by John Waterhouse and Charlie Britten, April 2018


Alan Ayckbourn is one of the most performed living playwrights in the world, with an astonishing repertoire of over seventy plays covering fifty plus years and he’s still writing! A lot of Ayckbourn plays are somewhat mediocre, like listening to a 1980’s album by Paul McCartney and wondering if this really was the same man who wrote so many Beatles classics. On that analogy, Relatively Speaking is Ayckbourn’s Sergeant Peppers; a clever, witty comedy which keeps a certain suspense running right up to the last line.


First performed in the mid 60’s and Ayckbourn’s first big West End success, Relatively Speaking is one of the key plays on which the writer’s reputation as a true master of comedy theatre hinges. It is also a play which, unlike many other others of the time, comes over as remarkably undated and it is a pleasure to see it given another airing.


A very good way to judge if a play has been enjoyable or not is to pose a simple question: would it be fun to sit through it all again, even with foreknowledge of how the plot unfolds second time round? In the case of Alan Ayckbourn's classic tale of deceit and incomprehension, the answer is an emphatic yes.


The plot itself is deliciously twisted from start to finish, yet that was just one of the three elements that made this a compelling watch. The audience was kept tantalised throughout by the knife-edge on which the storyline ran between an ongoing charade and the complete and explosive revelation of the truth. Even so, one truth is kept hidden right until the end. A number of Ayckbourn’s ‘comedies’ amount to little more than sitting in the public gallery of a divorce court, were such a thing allowed, with the humour just centering around typically three on-the-face-of-it happy marriages descending into bitterness and misery, but that is certainly not the case with Relatively Speaking; a clever play from start to finish.


Relatively SpeakingAs important as any plot devices was the quality of the acting. Matt Connor as Greg played the straight man with aplomb, his initial suspicion of girlfriend Ginny (Lianne Harvey) providing a wonderfully understated contrast with the gullibility that helped everyone else maintain a series of lies and misunderstandings that passed right over his head. Lianne Harvey herself brought wondrous expression and depth to a crucial part, though none raised the combination of facial incredulity and comical exasperation more than Crispin Letts, who as Philip managed to balance the extraordinary irony of a man both wronged and yet in the wrong.


The most enigmatic of all was Jo Mousley as Sheila, whose own enigmatic mixture of mischief, mystery and involuntary motherhood kept everyone guessing. Collectively, the cast did full justice to every nuance and emotion of a brilliant script, which is without doubt one of Alan Ayckbourn's finest plays.


Credit must also be given to the excellent staging, comprising two very different sets with great attention to detail and completely transporting us into the garden of a large, posh house in the Home Counties on a warm summer’s day; a fine piece of design and construction.


Relatively Speaking is comedy, pure and simple without any great issues explored or reliance on any particular victim as the butt of the humour. Do go and see this show. And when you have, you'll definitely want to see it again. Relatively Speaking is on until Saturday 5th May.

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