The revival of Alan Ayckbourn’s comedy is just what the West End needs. This is a genuinely hilarious comedy that doesn’t resort to cheap laughs. The set is delightfully bizarre but plays a rather significant role in some of the most memorable comic moments throughout the play.
Frank, played by Nicholas Le Prevost, is an kind yet absent-minded man who is married to the cold and distant Fiona. Frank is also the boss of Bob, played by Jason Merrells, a brash man who is married to his bored and frustrated housewife, Teresa played by Tamzin Outhwaite. Soon to join the office is William (Matthew Cottle) who is a bumbling bully and is married to Mary (Gilian Wright), a simple woman. Bob and Fiona are having an affair and when being questioned by their partners after a late night of intimacy, both use William and Mary as innocent alibis, leading to much misunderstanding.
Disaster ensues when Frank and Teresa both invite this simple and dull pair over for dinner on consecutive nights. However, due to Ackybourn’s pure genius the audience witness both these dinner parties at the same time in the same space. The actors cleverly switch between the two scenes abruptly but without ever breaking the flow of events. This scene is completely farcical but it’s the funniest and smartest scene in the entire play.
How the Other Half Loves was written and set in the 1960s and a lot of the humour derides from the time period. With landlines and through lack of caller ID, a lot of the humour can happen over the phone. The theme of class structure and changing sexual morality, or immorality, in this case is also very cemented in the time period. Even the gender politics is only funny because of the time period although at times, as a younger audience member, the misogyny seems on the fence between time-appropriate humour and just plain abusive.
As each scene of the play is choreographed so comprehensively, it is vital that the cast delivers each line perfectly so that the next actor does not miss their cue. Despite there being a few blunders on the night, it was mightily impressive to see two scenes take place at once.
Each character is such a major contrast from the other cast mates which makes the play rather animated and with such a fast pace there is no down time for the cast and no dull moment for the audience.
How the Other Half Loves plays The Garrick until 25 June 2016. For more information and tickets, see Theatre Royal Haymarket’s website.
Photo: Alastair Muir