How the Other Half Loves
Peter Hall Company
Bath Theatre Royal
Alan Strachan directs this fine romp through Ayckbourn's masterful sitting-room farce with its dark emotional undertones.
Ayckbourn presents us with three couples all with inter-connecting lives. The first, Frank and Fiona Foster (Nicholas le Provost and Marsha Fitzalan), are the boss and his wife, who live in a cosy middle class cocoon, where the fripperies of life are everything. High-heeled slippers and a sherry before dinner are the norm and "bathroom stationery" is a coy reference to loo roll.
Bob and Teresa Phillips (Richard Stacey and Claudia Elmhirst) are less well bred and live with a good deal more chaos. Terry comes downstairs in the morning in an old nightie and a cardi and pours over yesterday's Guardian, while Bob stubs his cigarette out in the peanut butter sandwich his wife has (reluctantly) made him for breakfast.
William and Mary Featherstone (Paul Kemp and Amanda Royle) are socially gauche and miserably married. He slaps his wife's hand for every wrong-footing, while she has a panic attack every time the phone rings.
When Fiona Foster and Bob Phillips have an affair and concoct a story about the failing marriage of the Featherstones, it presents an opportunity for some uproarious comedy lashed with very some dark commentary about the British middle classes.
Strachan's direction and Paul Farnsworth's design bring to life Ayckbourn's very visual comedy. The set is a masterpiece of retro design: with the Phillips' vibrant orange, brown and purple colour scheme, 'Kerplunk' and Paul Newman posters, spliced with the neat chintz, the fine bone china and the many costume changes of the Foster household.
Le Provost is an outstanding Frank Foster, with perfect comic delivery and an unshakeable sense of authority, comfortable as he is in the Chair's role, so long as his wife can remind him to put his shoes on and rescue him from the "crisis" of missing bathroom stationery. Fitzalan is a gloriously self-possessed and glamorous Fiona, oozing finishing school grace and poise in the face of mounting pressure.
Richard Stacey's Bob Phillips has a dismissive, hard-edged arrogance which makes for some darkly unsettling moments in the midst of belly-laughs, and works well against Claudia Elmhirst's easy naturalism.
Paul Kemp gives Featherstone a touch of Python-pathos and yet manages to wrap it up with enough realism to convince us that he is the most unappealing husband of them all, taking advantage of and perpetuating Amanda Royle's fabulously nervy Mary.
This is a great and very funny play, one which Acykbourn described as one of "the sunnier plays of my youth", presented here in a strong production with a fine cast.
'How the Other Half Loves' runs in rep with 'Victory' at the Theatre Royal Bath until August 25th, before going on a national tour.
Sheila Connor reviewed this production on tour at the Yvonne Arnaud Theatre, Guildford
Reviewer: Allison Vale