Relatively Speaking

Written by Alan Ayckbourn
Directed by Gina Wilkinson
Performed by Andrew Gillies, Brendan Murray, Barbara Worthy, Jenny Young
Grand Theatre, London
January 10 to 28, 2006
Reviewed by Mary Alderson

Relatively Speaking is more than relatively good

Take the farcical nonsense out of a British farce and you have Relatively Speaking, currently on stage at London’s Grand Theatre. This comedy, set in England in the 1960’s, has all the clever writing of a British farce, while remaining believable. Author Alan Ayckbourn has removed the less plausible elements of a typical farce such as men getting away with female disguises, or several people in the same house never meeting because they are always on the other side of slamming doors. But Ayckbourn left in the one main ingredient – mistaken identities.

Relatively Speaking is a hilarious comedy based on the characters’ assumptions of who’s who. The cast of four works perfectly together. It starts with a young couple, Ginny (Jenny Young) and Greg (Brendan Murray). Ginny is a young woman with a checkered past – we soon learn she’s had several men in her life, and despite the fact that she is professing her interest in Greg, there are hints that she may still be involved with an older man. Greg, on the other hand, is new to the dating game, and Ginny is his first serious interest.

Then we meet an older couple, Philip (Andrew Giles) and Sheila (Barbara Worthy) who are obviously bored with their relationship. Without giving away too much of the plot, it turns out that Philip is indeed Ginny’s older man, but young Greg believes she has gone to visit her parents. As expected, the mistaken identities grow into a tangled web of deceit, which results in hilarious dialogue.

The comedy lies in the brilliant writing. Surprisingly, this was Ayckbourn’s first commercial success, written in 1965 when he was just a young man. Since then he has gone on to write more than 60 hit comedies, and at age 67, he has just had another successful opening in London’s West End.

Director Gina Wilkinson recognizes that the dialogue is funny enough, and doesn’t ask her cast to go over the top for laughs. Each part is well cast, with each character maintaining an appropriate British accent. Their comedic timing is perfect, and laughs are created with just a simple raised eyebrow, or slight change of inflection.

Credit must go to Judith Bowden for an elaborate set. First we’re inside Ginny’s flat – a typical tiny apartment in London, decorated in 1965 clutter, complete with bead curtains and a paper parasol. Then the set turns round, and we’ve moved from the busy city to a beautiful English country garden, with rose bushes and vines climbing the cottage walls.

Impressive comedic actors working with very funny and cleverly written dialogue makes for a hilarious night out. Relatively Speaking is more than relatively good, it’s very good.

Relatively Speaking continues at the Grand Theatre in London until January 28. Tickets are available at the Grand box office at 672-8800 or 1-800-265-1593.

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