by Sir Alan Ayckbourn, CBE
Ensemble Theatre until 14 January, 2017
Reviewed by Ron Lee, CSP
Consistency, longevity and popularity speak volumes when it comes to theatrical success, and playwright Sir Alan Ayckbourn, CBE, is the most performed of all living English playwrights and is second most-produced ever, after William Shakespeare.
So when I heard that the Ensemble Theatre was going to stage Ayckbourn’s 1965 work, Relatively Speaking, I anticipated an enjoyable evening in Kirribilli. I had seen productions of his later offerings, Absurd Person Singular, The Norman Conquests, Bedroom Farce and a couple of versions of Relatively Speaking, but that was back in the 1970s and 80s. So had Ayckbourn’s first hit play become dated? Would it entertain today’s audiences?
In this production, the 1960s time frame is established early with some great music of the time. A twenty-something couple awake in Ginny’s London flat as she prepares to visit her parents who live out of town. The blissfully innocent and in love Greg is still curious about the many bouquets of flowers and boxes of chocolates in the flat, as well as the pair of large-size slippers under Ginny’s bed.
Greg decides to surprise Ginny by turning up at her parents’ place, and he arrives early. That’s when the miscommunication and confusion starts.
With an excellent four-person cast, director Mark Kilmurry extracts every skerrick of humour from Ayckbourn’s script. As Philip, David Whitney, whom I first saw at The Rocks Players when he was a strapping young actor with flowing blond hair, shows his vast experience in comedy and theatre in general. Whitney’s timing is masterful in this physically slow-paced and verbally fast-paced farce.
Tracy Mann plays Philip’s wife, Sheila. Mann has been acting in everything since the mid-1970s, and reminds me of Felicity Kendall in this play. The pauses are critical for timing in this theatrical genre, and Mann is unafraid of the silences. It’s interesting to see David Whitney and Tracy Mann playing an older couple.
As Ginny, Emma Palmer beautifully resides in a state of fear and concern that her secret will be revealed to the others.
Comedic acting is as much about reactions to lines as it is about the lines themselves. As Greg, Jonny Hawkins’ states of confusion, self-consciousness, bewilderment and social discomfort make for an enjoyable performance. Hugh Grant’s default persona is embraced by Hawkins and he adds layers to the character. Also notable is the magical set design by Hugh O’Connor who, working with the restrictions of the small performance area, transforms a London flat into a backyard of a house in the country.
The Ensemble Theatre production of Relatively Speaking builds up in the first act and rapidly gains momentum in the second, rushing to the climax that brought a rousing audience response on opening night. This Ayckbourn at his finest. Very entertaining.