“I can’t say I’m very taken with this marmalade”
It does seem that Alan Ayckbourn has been officially anointed national treasure status by the critical establishment but his charms have largely eluded me, appealing more to a middle-aged greying sensibility that trips merrily down the middle of the road. But the ease with which I was able to get one of the cheaper tickets for the balcony of the Wyndham’s Theatre, one of the more intimate West End houses and so a great bargain tip, for the final day of the run of Relatively Speaking meant a cheeky matinée was in the offing.
The story is one of his archetypal mistaken identity farces – Ginny has decided that Greg is the man for her even though it has only been a month and so she nips off to the country to end her affair with an older man. But she tells Greg she is going to visit her parents and in a moment of passion, he decides to follow her in order to ask for her father’s hand. What follows is confusion at the enduring mix-ups, exacerbated by the English reticence to confront the obvious and thus avoid social embarrassment.
Thing is though, the 1967 play is set in aspic like a relic in a museum. The attitudes towards female sexuality and infidelity are very much of their time and asking them to sustain the dramatic momentum of the writing becomes a huge, unlikely ask. Lindsay Posner corrals his assets into a perky little ensemble who do everything that is required of them but there’s a distinct veneer of artificiality about the whole affair, disbelief has to be completely suspended from the off and that makes it far less funny.
Kara Tointon feels a little out of her depth in trying to make something believable out of Ginny, giving her too many hard edges to really engage the sympathies, especially against Max Bennett’s handsomely puppyish Greg. And as the older pair, Jonathan Coy has little more to do than play the typical Tory gent and Felicity Kendal plays, well, Felicity Kendal, her Sheila a daffy indictment of suburban inanity. The marital angst they display interestingly provides the real tragicomic notes that suggest the playwright’s future oeuvre but it would have been no great loss if I’d let this finish without catching it.