Theatre Royal Bath & Kenny Wax Ltd
The Lowry, Salford
It’s nearly half a century since this comedy first established the name of a young playwright, but the years fall away in a welcome revival of Alan Ayckbourn’s Relatively Speaking.
Viewed nowadays, it can also be admired as a work that cleverly straddled the conflicting styles of British theatre in the early post-war years. Between the "angry, young" writers tearing up the style book, and an old guard still cherishing the "well-made" tradition of stage plays.
Or you can just sit back and lap up the easy laughs that pour forth from an intricate and sustained comedy based on a monumental misunderstanding...
That particular confusion depends on an over-abundance of British politeness and reserve and for that reason alone Relatively Speaking must always remain firmly rooted to its 1960s setting. Such courtesies are not as commonplace nowadays.
It’s still encouraging though that this production can draw just as many laughs from younger theatregoers as it does from an old guard who make up most of its audience.
Ginny and Greg are a young '60s couple swinging briskly towards the brink of marriage, while middle-aged Philip and Sheila are in the very depths of married life.
The way in which their lives intersect is the heart of a brilliant piece of comic invention and to say more would still spoil the reveal.
Ayckbourn’s masterwork is reunited here with director Robin Herford, a long-time partnership when both were at Scarborough’s Stephen Joseph Theatre, so there’s hardly a step out of place, a reactive grimace missing, or a moment for comedy misjudged.
Robert Powell seems to be as at "home" in his native Salford as he is in the English country garden setting, harrumphing and still plotting assignations as ageing roué Philip. Opposite him should be Liza Goddard as wife Sheila but a family emergency prevented her appearance opening night. Understudy Sarah Simpkins steps smartly into the role and a near note-perfect performance should easily move her up the theatre rankings.
Lindsey Campbell is a suitably confident young woman of the period, while Antony Eden captures all the testosterone-addled exuberance of her smitten boyfriend. Maybe his name helps but he seems to have sprung straight from the time!
Relatively Speaking also runs here on the perfect setting of The Lowry’s smaller stage.
Reviewer: David Upton