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REVIEW: Relatively Speaking by Alan Ayckbourn at Cambridge Arts Theatre

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This play is superb. The performances are immaculate and from the opening lines to the last word it’s very funny.

An early Alan Ayckbourn work is always a bit of theatrical history but this production, of a play first performed in 1967, is scintillating.

Fresh as a daisy, it’s a joy to see.

Relatively Speaking is at Cambridge Arts Theatre until Saturday, February 11. PHOTO: Tristram Kenton

Relatively Speaking is at Cambridge Arts Theatre until Saturday, February 11. PHOTO: Tristram Kenton

As the play starts, Antony Eden as the earnest young boyfriend Greg puts out an arm to answer the phone from under the pink sheet in his girlfriend’s single bed.

The “wrong number” rings off and having looked down at where his underpants ought to be, he drapes the sheet around him. He’s engagingly droll.

When his girlfriend points to a birth mark on his leg, he says cheerfully: “It’s not a birthmark, it’s a scar. This bottom’s seen action.” His character has real bounce. He’s engagingly droll.

The stupendous set by Peter McKintosh, evokes everything anyone can remember about a tatty 1960s flat in London– the wallpaper, a glimpse into the grim kitchen, the rickety chest of drawers.

Relatively Speaking is at Cambridge Arts Theatre until Saturday, February 11. PHOTO: Tristram Kenton

Relatively Speaking is at Cambridge Arts Theatre until Saturday, February 11. PHOTO: Tristram Kenton

We can hear that Greg’s girlfriend, Ginny (Olivia Le Andersen) is in the shower. She emerges wrapped in a towel and is rushing to catch a train for a Sunday visit to see her parents in the country.

Heart-shaped chocolates

He wants to know why he can’t go with her – and also why there are so many bunches of flowers in her flat – and drawers full of heart-shaped boxes of chocolates.

Who sent them? Why is she rather distracted?

Relatively Speaking is at Cambridge Arts Theatre until Saturday, February 11. PHOTO: Tristram Kenton

Relatively Speaking is at Cambridge Arts Theatre until Saturday, February 11. PHOTO: Tristram Kenton

After Ginny leaves for her train, Greg decides to jump into a cab and follow her. He will visit her parents too and ask her father’s permission to marry her.

The problem is, as we see when he arrives at the address before she does – as the set turns round to show us the ultimate, wisteria covered country house in Buckinghamshire, the couple arguing over breakfast on the beautiful, sunlit patio outside the stylish pairs of French doors, are not Ginny’s parents.

The dialogue of cross purposes and mistaken identities is sharp and clever and this cast of four, directed by Robin Herford, make the absolute most of it. Liza Goddard, with her perfect comic timing is brilliant as Stella, puzzled at the arrival of the two young strangers but nonetheless inviting them to lunch.

Steven Pacey as her husband Philip is wonderfully apoplectic when he thinks Greg is asking him for permission to run off with his wife.

Relatively Speaking is at Cambridge Arts Theatre until Saturday, February 11. PHOTO: Tristram Kenton

Relatively Speaking is at Cambridge Arts Theatre until Saturday, February 11. PHOTO: Tristram Kenton

Plaudits to designer Peter McKintosh not just for the glorious set but also the costumes, which all add to an uplifting spectacle. The detail makes the world seem right. Life is simply better when you see a play done this well.

Relatively Speaking is at Cambridge Arts Theatre until Saturday, February 11. PHOTO: Tristram Kenton

Relatively Speaking is at Cambridge Arts Theatre until Saturday, February 11. PHOTO: Tristram Kenton

So little in this world works as it should – or is done as it should be.

But on nights like this, it still is in the theatre.

Relatively Speaking is at Cambridge Arts Theatre until Saturday, February 11.

 

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