Relatively Speaking

Alan Ayckbourn
Wiltshire Creative
Salisbury Playhouse

Greg, Philip, Sheila and Ginny in the Garden: Hubert Burton, Tim McMullan, Caroline Harker and Louise Calf Credit: Helen Murray
Ginny in her bedroom (Louise Calf) Credit: Helen Murray
Sheila with her flowers (Caroline Harker) Credit: Helen Murray

We know it’s going to be something really special tonight. I mean, the whole ground floor of the main house has been totally transformed.

Not only have we got the audience across the back of the acting space but at the sides as well.

The set is intriguing too. With a small kitchen to the extreme left and an untidy bed in the middle of the stage, the rest of the space to the right is being taken up by a magnificent, flower-filled garden, with an inviting-looking tea table and access to a kitchen.

Then there’s that intriguing striped ribbon making its way across and around the stage area. It’s reminiscent of a road map and that makes sense. For in this play, with all its intrigues and secrets, there’s got to be times when it’s necessary for the characters to be in other places than The Willows, spacious, affluent home to Sheila (Caroline Harker) and Philip (Tim McMullan). The house has the extensive garden with which we are greeted, and is a complete contrast to Greg and Ginny’s (Hubert Burton and Louise Calf’s) small flat.

So we have an opening first scene in which we get to realise that there are tensions between Greg and Ginny which are hardly eased by the discovery of a pair of size 10 men’s slippers under the bed (Greg takes size 8).

The action then transfers to The Willows where family secrets are actually, or supposedly revealed, we are left on tenterhooks by further complications and misunderstandings and, with our knowledge of what’s really occurring, and of which the involved characters are ignorant, are continuously convulsed with laughter.

Will these unlikely and seemingly disparate folk ever be able to come together and resolve their various differences? We all hope so. Whatever we may think of their morals, we’ve come to care what happens to them.

Just four characters, then, and with a surrounding audience. How do they manage to engage everyone? Perfectly, it seems. This production has been the subject of extensive, detailed rehearsal, with special care taken over those moments when the actors are having to face away from the audience. Whatever is taking place on stage, we are completely involved.

Relatively Speaking was first produced in 1967 at the Duke of York’s Theatre starring Celia Johnson and Richard Briers and was the first of Ayckbourn’s plays to achieve widespread critical acclaim. Fifty-two years later, are we concerned about possible anachronisms such as ‘bus conductor’ and abbreviated phone numbers? Well, miniskirts are in evidence everywhere nowadays, so perhaps we don’t need to worry too much. And cigarette smoking is definitely in decline, isn’t it?

But this play, as its interpretation tonight shows, is still capable of giving us prolonged moments of pure joy.

Okay. A wonderful production which, tonight, was packed. And in spite of the extra seating they’ve managed to produce by making use of the stage, once word gets about in Salisbury, you’ve got to wonder if it might not be a good idea to get your seats booked now.

Yes. It really is that good.

And the best news of all—Sir Alan is still writing!

Reviewer: Anne Hill

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