Alan Ayckbourn’s 1967 comedy Relatively Speaking is meandering its way to the West End via a shortish run in the provinces and last night it pitched up for a week at Milton Keynes Theatre.
The elderly first night audience got as much fun staring at the drop curtain, which displayed a ‘60s Ordinance Survey map of the Home Counties, as they did out of this quaintly old fashioned period piece.
There have been some fantastic revivals of Ayckbourn’s work in recent years but this is one of the weakest and most disappointing productions. It may prove a success in the shires but I can’t see it holding muster in the capital.
There were plenty of laugh-out-loud moments but that probably had more to do with the age of the audience than it did with the quality of the story.
Set in the swinging ‘60s, groovy girl about town Ginny is juggling a hectic love life that includes a naïve (though handsomely built) new beau, Greg, and at least one married man old enough to be her father.
After a pretty slow opener, in Ginny’s shabby London flat, the action moves to The Chilterns and the four-bed exec style home of a middle aged couple Sheila and Philip.
There follows a comedy of farce, mistaken identities, and general confusion told in half, unfinished, sentences as the relationship between the foursome slowly unravels.
Back in the day it would have been clever and slick but this creaking sitcom is showing its age and the audience had got to the denouement way ahead of the final curtain.
What saves it from being ordinary is the casting of stage veteran Jonathan Coy as Philip and the lovely Felicity Kendal as his quite dotty wife Sheila. Both give effortless lessons to the two younger actors – Kara Tointon and Max Bennett – in the art of comedy and timing.
Sheila spends most of the play serving up drinks and striving to be the perfect suburban Stepford Wife to accompany the manicured lawns and idyllic setting of their luxury idyll.
But there’s more than a few weeds in her long-standing relationship with a boor of a husband who has tired of her. The problem is that it’s hard to dislike Coy in whatever he appears in and Ayckbourn also appears to have more than a grudging admiration for Philip’s duplicity.
Kendal is simply marvellous as the doting wife. She wears the expression of a rabbit caught in the headlights and drifts in and out of scenes catching part explanations to things which she fails to fully comprehend.
Bennett shows off his well-toned derriere during the opening which caused a few blue rinses in the audience to reach for their heart pills. He settled well into the role of the hapless Max once he had the seniors on stage.
The weak link is Kara Tointon who thinks that a successful comic performance comes from pulling a few exaggerated faces and constantly fiddling with her awful wig.
Relatively Speaking runs until Saturday. For tickets call the box office 0844 871 7652 or go online www.atgtickets.com/miltonkeynes