ALAN Ayckbourn’s first hit play, Relatively Speaking, was originally performed in 1965, when life was very, very different. What isn’t different is people, and it is that certainty that makes the UK’s most prolific playwright an enduring legend.
This is a play set in the “swinging sixties”, a time when sexual freedom was big news, and girls got jobs and flats in cities and lived very different lives from those of their parents. The premise is of a secretary (Ginny) having an affair with her married boss Philip, but meeting and falling in love with a younger man, Greg. How can she get her old lover to back off?
She decides to visit him at his Home Counties country home on a Sunday, when his wife Sheila will, of course, be at church. She leaves the besotted Greg in London to catch the train to visit “her parents”, but Greg decides to surprise her by turning up and asking her father for Ginny’s hand in marriage.
But, as luck would have it, it’s the third Sunday after Trinity – the one Sunday of the year when Sheila doesn’t go to church. The stage is set for hilarious misunderstandings.
The critical thing about a production of Relatively Speaking is that the director – here the excellent Ayckbourn specialist Robin Herford – and all four members of the cast play it for real. Each character has his/her own view of the situation in the garden of The Willows, and each understands SOME of what is going on. In many ways it is the skeleton for the playwright’s later major hits, including The Norman Conquests.
The new touring production, which opened in Bath and continues through the Spring, could not be bettered. It uses the theatre’s revolve to transform the cramped London flat, with its posters and bead curtain, into the manicured garden of the country home of a self-satisfied and blindly arrogant man and his long-suffering wife.
Liza Goddard and Steven Pacey are perfect in their roles, instantly recognisable and in many ways changeless. Ginny and Greg (Olivia le Andersen and Antony Eden) are creatures of their time, captured perfectly, she in her passionately independent anger and helpless desperation, he in his gauche and zany determination to succeed in a life he doesn’t understand.
It’s just the sparkling tonic we need for this cold, dank, gloomy winter, and it’s on in Bath until Saturday 21st January.
Photographs by Tristram Kenton