REVIEW: Relatively Speaking by Alan Ayckbourn, Chichester Festival Theatre, until Saturday, November 26.

Nicely done. Very nicely done indeed. Four actors create total confusion and guide us expertly through it.

Robert Powell
Robert Powell

In truth, Relatively Speaking, Ayckbourn’s breakthrough play more than half a century ago, is showing its age.

It creaks awfully at the start of both scenes in the first half, slow to get going and far from thrilling. But it’s a piece which rewards patience as Acykbourn sows the seeds for all the misunderstandings to follow. And therein lies the pleasure.

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Ginny (Lindsay Campbell) is being completely evasive and lying through her teeth as boyfriend Greg (Antony Eden) presses her on their future together. With an agenda we’ve yet to discover, Ginny announces she’s off to her parents in the countryside.

Cut to Philip (Robert Powell) and Sheila (Liza Goddard) on the patio of a beautiful country-house set. The tensions are rising to the surface in a marriage which is clearly in difficulties – tensions which are as nothing to those that pile up once Greg blunders in, soon followed by Ginny.

The whole scenario is predicated on Ayckbourn’s evident belief that the British will always avoid the obvious questions such as “Who on earth are you?” Instead he stokes the flames of total misunderstanding and endless mistaken identity – which is where the cast really show their skills, each one blindly clinging on to their partial apprehension of a situation forever spiralling out of control.

The slowness of the start is soon forgotten amid much hilarity. The challenge for the audience is to remember just who thinks what at any given moment – and the result is a splendid second half, particularly when, briefly, one of the characters believes themselves to be in full command of the facts and starts to play with the others. Comeuppance soon follows.

Director Robin Herford helps everyone keep the lid on it all. Thoroughly enjoyable – in the end.

Phil Hewitt

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