In 1967, when Relatively Speaking first played to audiences, it opened to a roar of approval from the critics, and the first offering of now acclaimed playwright Alan Ayckbourn set him on the path to success. Now, 46 years later, the comedy is back in the West End at the Wyndham’s theatre, offering a night of hilarity that is still relevant and completely charming today.
The story follows a young couple, Greg and Ginny, who have seemingly just spent the night together (much less of a big deal now that at the time of its premiere) and are in the midst of a relationship which is splintering around the edges. Seemingly oblivious to the bunches of flowers that dot the small ’60s-styled bedsit (with which he mirthfully covers his modesty in one early scene) Greg proposes and is then dismayed when he is told that he cannot visit Ginny’s parents with her that afternoon. Greg decides to visit them anyway, and chaos ensues as he arrives to meet Sheila (Felicity Kendal) who is unhappily married to Philip (Jonathan Coy), who also happens to be Ginny’s secret lover.
It’s a incredibly British farce of crossed wires and mistaken identities, and is played out within Peter McKintosh’s swinging 60s set of Ginny’s bedsit and the patio of an immaculately kept garden. Lindsay Posner’s direction of the quartet brings out the comedy to its fullest – Kendal’s timing in particular is superb – and Coy’s portrait of bullishly patronising Philip makes the duo a force to be reckoned with. Kara Tointon, modelling a Mary Quant-style wig, has the right mix of maturity and innocence for Ginny and Max Bennett’s turn as Greg gives us a perplexed, naive partner to balance it out. Michael Bruce (current resident composer at the Donmar) provides us with some apt little jingles to help the evening along, and Howard Harrison’s minimal lighting expertly illuminates the manicured patio where the majority of the action takes place.
It is a wholesome revival, but the genius of the show lies in the writing. Ayckbourn is still as relevant now as he was in the ’60s, and has a real knack for bringing out the comedy in its darkest situations. In the second act particularly, I found myself laughing so regularly, that it’s not until the end of the show that you really see the unfortunate misogyny in Philip’s character. Relatively Speaking provides you with an evening of great hilarity and sharp comic timing all wrapped up in the psychedelic 60s era.
Relatively Speaking is playing The Wyndham’s Theatre until 31st August 2013. For more information and tickets, see the Delfont Mackintosh website.