How the Other Half Loves
Theatre Royal, Newcastle - touring
The thing about Alan Ayckbourn's plays is, when you take away the basic production idea (which is often very clever and frequently innovative), what you are left with is really rather ordinary. The idea in How the Other Half Loves is to use the same set for two different rooms, each with its own furniture and décor, and have two scenes taking place simultaneously in the one set. It reaches its peak when two dinner parties happen at the same time, each hosted by a separate couple, with another couple being the guests at both. It's very clever and Ayckbourn uses it to its best comic effect.
But take away that idea and what do we have? A comedy based on a series of misunderstandings.
In the interval one of the other reviewers remarked that it was all "a bit Terry and June", and so it is - and about as dated. In spite of the fact that director Mark Piper has updated many of the contemporary references, the characterisation really does show its 34 years.
Frank Foster, played superbly over the top by John Challis, was a hangover from the past even in 1969 (which is why Challis has to be OTT) and one cannot imagine a playwright creating such a character today except in a pastiche. His wife Fiona (Sue Holderness) and the other two couples are similarly in a time warp and the whole situation is redolent of seventies' sit-coms and that whole genre of comedies dealing with middle class naughtiness which has its origin in Feydeau farces
The cast (Challis and Holderness, plus Gary Turner, Carli Norris, Richard Kane and Lavinia Bertram) take the whole thing in their stride and produce workmanlike performances which pleased the first night audience at the Theatre Royal. They enjoyed the show, but I got the strong feeling that seeing Boycie and Marlene in the flesh was as much part of that enjoyment as the play was.
Reviewer: Peter Lathan