Relatively speaking, the misunderstanding at the heart of Alan Ayckbourn’s 1965 play is one of substantial proportions.
Never has so much chaos ensued over a peaceful warm Sunday afternoon than when Greg and Ginny, a young couple from London, arrive at the country home of Philip and Sheila. Eager to secure Ginny’s hand in marriage, Greg follows his girlfriend to The Willows to ask her father for his consent, but what he faces when he arrives – unbeknownst to him – is a man who is not Ginny’s father and a woman who is not her mother, not even in an adoptive capacity.
Peter McKintosh’s set is as detailed as the intricate web of lies that has been spun around the situation; its exquisite detail even extending to the map-printed curtain, which charts Ginny and Greg’s journey from their cramped damp-ridden flat in London to the lavish Buckinghamshire house – complete with well-tended topiary – of their hospitable hosts.
Last seen on the London stage in The Promise, Max Bennett returns to the West End with a well-judged performance as doubting boyfriend Greg. As Greg’s suspicion rapidly turns to ignorance on arrival at the home of Ginny’s ‘parents’, Bennett never loses the humour he establishes in the opening scene when he wittily struggles to deal with Ginny’s plentiful petals, maintaining the same comic demeanour whilst happy in the belief that the company he is keeping is that of his girlfriend’s relatives.
While Bennett undoubtedly provokes the most laughs, Felicity Kendal’s Sheila – submerged in her own state of obliviousness – brings comic bewilderment to her role as the baffled wife, constantly looking over her shoulder for an explanation to the disorder around her, though ultimately hurt by the actions of her unfaithful husband.
There is equal support from Jonathan Coy, who makes a suitably unhinged Philip, limbs flailing, mind exasperating as he jumps – slippers first – to his own conclusions. Kara Tointon – playing the only character with any shred of indication as to what is going on – is a defensive and deceitful Ginny who needs more than Philip’s misplaced hoe to escape the hole that she has dug.
Featuring polished and paced direction from Lindsay Posner, this revival of Relatively Speaking is an undoubtedly hilarious evening, but with themes of adultery, marital misery and deceit resonating throughout, there is a painful discontent experienced by some of the characters that cannot be concealed by laughter.