Relatively Speaking

Alan Ayckbourn
Oldham Coliseum Theatre
Oldham Coliseum Theatre

Crispin Letts, Lianne Harvey, Jo Mousley and Matt Connor Credit: Joel Chester Fildes
Lianne Harvey and Matt Connor Credit: Joel Chester Fildes
Crispin Letts and Jo Mousley Credit: Joel Chester Fildes

More than half a century after this early success for actor and fledgling playwright Ayckbourn first appeared in Scarborough under the title Meet My Father, Robin Herford, who has been closely associated with the playwright for many years as an actor and director, has created a very entertaining revival for the Coliseum.

The four-hander opens with young couple Greg (Matt Connor) and Ginny (Lianne Harvey) in her tiny flat which is situated clearly in fashionable '60s London by designer Michael Holt, with its decor and posters of Twiggy and Carnaby Street. As she gets ready to go to visit her parents, he is disturbed by constant silent phone calls and deliveries of flowers and chocolates, not to mention the man's slippers under her bed.

Ginny has explanations for everything before rushing off, but Greg decides it's time for him to meet her parents finally and sets off to follow her.

After an impressive transformation of the stage, Philip and Sheila are revealed enjoying a summer Sunday morning in their large country garden—the latter taunting her husband with suggestions that she may be having an affair—when a strange man (Greg) turns up, but middle class English politeness prevents them from asking him why he is there.

What follows is two hours of misunderstandings through cleverly contrived dialogue that carefully steers around words that would give the game away until the last moment. Philip is not, of course, Ginny's father but her ex-boss and the source of the calls, chocolates and flowers, unknown to Sheila. It's the stuff of farce, but delivered at the pace of a Sunday morning in an English country garden which, when directed with as much careful attention to detail as this, works remarkably well.

The subject of the young woman getting unwelcome attention from her older, married boss may have a ring of topicality to it, but this is a version of female empowerment rooted firmly in the 1960s, not in the #MeToo generation of the 2010s; while progressive for the time, it doesn't have any shock value now.

However the play is cleverly constructed with some very witty dialogue and a carefully crafted plot that is often very funny indeed. Perhaps the scenes of misunderstanding are taken a little too far for credibility and could have been a little shorter to keep the momentum, but it all works very well. The ending, however, does leave a few important strings untied—surely Greg will find out eventually that everything he has been told that day was a complete fabrication. And what do those slippers indicate?

The fairly sparse audience on press night were often slow to respond, but the cast still pulled off perfectly pitched performances in a very entertaining production, perhaps the most accomplished I've seen at the Coliseum for quite some time.

Reviewer: David Chadderton

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