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March 7th - March 11th
Beautifully crafted, uproariously funny and charmingly English, Relatively Speaking was Alan Ayckbourn’s first West End hit in 1967. It made him a household name, with critics hailing the arrival of a great new comic talent and Noël Coward himself praising the young writer on creating “a beautifully constructed and very funny comedy”.
Greg only met Ginny a month ago but has already made up his mind that she’s the girl for him. When she tells him that she’s going to visit her parents, he decides this is the moment to ask her father for his daughter’s hand in marriage. Discovering a scribbled address, he follows her to Buckinghamshire where he finds Philip and Sheila enjoying a peaceful Sunday morning breakfast in the garden. The only thing is, they’re not Ginny’s parents…
Liza Goddard is one of the UK’s favourite actresses. Her extensive range of Ayckbourn credits incudes Life of Riley, Communicating Doors and Season’s Greetings. Her television work includes cult classics Doctor Who and Bergerac.
★★★★★ “Perfectly conceived, immaculately executed farce… as funny as ever” Sunday Times
Outstanding production (7th March 2023) - superb delivery from a very talented (and extremely hard working) cast. Impeccable timing and pacey delivery with lovely individual touches. The support crew were equally impressive - watching the scene change was almost as enjoyable as the performance! A very slick, professional delivery - we thoroughly enjoyed the whole experience and would heartily recommend it.
Excellent production. Very funny , most enjoyable.
The View From the Stalls
Two Alan Ayckbourn plays within a couple of weeks is something of a treat for local audiences. Following fast on the heels of How The Other Half Loves at the Swan Theatre comes what is regarded by many as his finest - and earliest - work, Relatively Speaking.
1969 is a significant year for two reasons. It is the year the play was first published (though it was presented on stage two years earlier) and it is the year that the BBC produced their first drama in colour. That was a show called Take Three Girls and this week, those two elements are brought together in the form of Liza Goddard, who played Victoria in the BBC show and who is now returning to Relatively Speaking to play Sheila, a role she last played here in 2016.
This is a brilliantly-written comedy of misunderstandings where even the audience is not quite sure what is going on. Set in a somewhat scruffy flat in London to start with, Ginny and Greg (Olivia Le Andersen and Antony Eden) are an unmarried couple (pretty risqué for the London stage at the time) who don't seem to see eye to eye and there is something mysterious about an address written on the back of a fag packet which Greg has discovered. Believing it to be the address of her parents, whom she had set out to visit by train that day, he departs in hot pursuit.
A big and impressive scene change then occurs which brings us to the house where Sheila and her husband Philip (Steven Pacey) live in the country. It is here, on a sunny Summer Sunday, that the rest of the action plays out after their peace is disturbed, with the conversations usually taking place between any two of the characters, neither of which appears to know what the other is talking about.
Throughout the play, the look on the actors' faces, as they attempt to navigate the twists and turns of the narrative is a joy to watch, particularly Anthony Eden who spends much of the time looking totally discombobulated and at a loss to comprehend why something so simple as approaching her parents in order to marry her could be so utterly confusing and complicated.
Other than a couple of references (such as the price of a train ticket, Greg's wages of £16 per week and the fact that there appeared to be a postal delivery on a Sunday…), the play - and the comedy - are timeless and could equally take place in the present day. This may well account for its longevity, still pulling in audiences more than 5 decades after it was first put on stage (having gone through a number of different titles in its early days such as "Meet my mother", "Meet my father" and "Taken for granted").
And the Malvern audience loved it, making it a hilarious show well worth going along to.
Showtime! John Phillpott
Alan Ayckbourn’s masterpiece may be approaching pensionable age but the fire of genius which was first kindled back in 1965 still burns bright with a flame that remains undimmed.
The genesis of the work is a classic tale all by itself. Written overnight, literally at the 11th hour, huge chunks later being redacted by a producer’s over-active blue pencil, a large cat being used as a table while the writer scribbled away furiously – I kid you not – and a hurried change of title, these are all factors that have combined to make the play’s creation the stuff of legends.
Today, it seems patently absurd that Ayckbourn should have been plagued with so many doubts about what would soon become a staple of the British theatre. Of course, all this confusion conveniently serves to oxygenate the enduring mythology surrounding the work.
The play opens in the flat of Greg and Ginny, a young co-habiting couple. Greg finds a strange pair of slippers under the bed and is too besotted to believe they might have been left by another man. Their presence might also explain the bunches of flowers and boxes of sweets filling Ginny’s apartment.
Ginny goes off for a day in the country, supposedly to visit her parents, but actually to break things off with her older married lover, Philip. Greg decides to follow her.
Greg (Antony Eden) is a loved-up, hormonally intoxicated individual, intent on marrying Ginny (Olivia Le Andersen) who obligingly supplies copious amounts of dew to spread over her lover’s misted eyes.
We next find ourselves on the patio at the home of Philip (Steven Pacey) and his dippy wife Sheila (Liza Goddard). Greg then shows up unannounced before Ginny, and wrongly assumes that they are her parents. It is not long before the whole situation becomes increasingly complicated and hilarious.
Timing is everything with Relatively Speaking and this superlative cast, keenly directed by Robin Herford, excels in every respect. Not a single second is wasted as Philip and Sheila’s relationship tosses and turns on the storm-torn sea that is their marriage, the arrival of Greg and Ginny dashing all hopes of any oil being available to pour on troubled waters.
Time and again, as the exchanges become ever-more desperate on that battleground of a patio, we are constantly reminded of the writer’s consummate skills. This is indeed finely honed dialogue where every word hits home, the duration of each pregnant pause lasting not a second longer than it should do.
Why Alan Ayckbourn should ever have ever entertained doubts about his play is a complete mystery. Well into its sixth decade, this keenly observed version - presented by Theatre Royal Productions - retains a remarkable freshness that defies both time and distance.
West End Best Friend
Alan Ayckbourn’s debut play was written in 1965 but its hilarious content and farcical misunderstandings remain as good today as they were then.
Greg and Ginny met only a month ago, but Greg has decided that this is the girl for him. When Ginny tells him that she is going to visit her parents, he decides that this is the moment he should ask her father for permission to marry his daughter. After discovering a scribbled address at her flat, Greg makes the irrational decision to follow her to Buckinghamshire, where he meets Philip and Sheila enjoying a quiet Sunday morning breakfast in their beautiful garden.
The only problem is that they’re not actually Ginny’s parents….only it takes a while for this minor detail to come to light.
Antony Eden plays Greg, the hapless romantic who, whilst a little jealous (which is actually fairly justified, we discover), is genuinely trying to do the right thing by Ginny. It’s a brilliantly convincing and focused performance. Olivia Le Anderson is Ginny, played as a strong feminine character who is enjoying her life the only way she knows how, whilst trying to find happiness and not actually hurt anyone in the process.
Liza Goddard as Sheila is perfectly naïve. That is until the penny drops and we see that she’s not quite as easily dissuaded as at first it may have seemed. Completing the cast is Steven Pacey as Philip. A brilliantly frustrating performance as firstly the sexist husband and boss, who sees both his wife and his secretary as there for his needs only, then as the unjustifiably jealous husband and lover who wants everything his way or not at all, and then as the husband who realises that he might not actually have a bad life after all.
With direction by Robin Herford on what can only be described as the most beautifully crafted, yet hefty set design by Peter McKintosh (there is the most incredible set change between London flat and countryside home), the production is pleasing both aesthetically and for the soul.
A perfect evening of watching someone else’s life play out and cringing at the mess they’ve made.
A fantastically entertaining, hilariously funny, Ayckbourn classic!
British Theatre Guide - Colin Davison
In 1965, the little-known Alan Ayckbourn, discouraged by poor reviews for an earlier play, set out to write one with a plot that was ‘actor-proof’. He need not have worried. After a few changes along the way, the play eventually became Relatively Speaking and for nearly 60 years since, the cream of British comedy actors have made it time-proof as well.
The lines sound as sharp as ever, the wit still has the power to surprise in the hands of such a brilliant foursome as on this latest tour. I suspect that many in the audience, like me, were seeing this typical Ayckbourn masterpiece for the umpteenth time. They still loved it. I ached with laughter.
The story concerns Greg, who suspects his new girlfriend Ginny of having another lover, so follows her to the comfortable, wisteria-clad home of her parents Philip and Sheila, where he intends to press his claim to marry their daughter. Except that it isn’t. And they are not.
Misunderstanding builds on misunderstanding, beautifully reflected in the frozen jaw, wide-eyed bemusement of Liza Goddard as Sheila, while Steven Pacey’s wonderful timing teases every comedy nuance out of Philip’s predicament after his secret ex-lover turn up on his doorstep.
Antony Eden, who like Goddard starred in the play’s 2016 tour, is perfect as the nervy, whimpering Greg—an uninspiring catch it must be said for Olivia Le Andersen’s perky, irresistible Ginny.
I wonder how that marriage would turn out. But it’s quite likely that Ayckbourn, the master of domestic disharmony, would have told us somewhere in the 82 plays he has written since this first big hit.