Alan Ayckbourn is a prolific British playwright, and a keen observer of human flaws and cultural idiosyncrasies. He is particularly good at examining English sensibilities and translating them through comedy that borders on sardonic. Relatively Speaking, his first successful play, is a good example. Written in 1967, its plot is a twisted pretzel of misunderstanding, deception and assumption, with much of the humour relying on reserved manners and the audience being one step ahead of the impossibly witless characters.
The current Ensemble Theatre production, directed by Mark Kilmurry, is an entertaining two-hour romp through situation farce, with the obvious humour of the script being tempered by sly winks in the self-referential set and subtleties in performance. Hugh O’Connor’s designs are exquisite and very clever (it’s not often a scene change gets applauded!).
The four roles have been intuitively cast. Emma Palmer is the bubbly, pastel-adorned Ginny, whose doe-eyed affectation makes her impervious to guilt. Jonny Hawkins, with perfect straight-man sincerity, plays her naive but strident lover. David Whitney recalls some of the best man-of-the-house early sitcom actors in his characterisation of Philip. But by far, the gem on stage is Tracy Mann as Sheila, who can do as much with a nuanced expression as Shakespeare can with a soliloquy.
There are aspects of the script that are conspicuously out-dated, but that actually becomes part of the joke. The laughs are hearty and plenty, and if you want a night at the theatre that doesn’t squeeze your cortex, this is the show to see. (RB)
Until Jan 14, varied performance times. Ensemble Theatre, 78 McDougall St, Kirribilli. $32-$69. Tickets & info: www.ensemble.com.au
Jan 17–Jan 22, varied performance times. Glen Street Theatre, cnr Glen St & Blackbutts Rd, Belrose. $31-$65. Tickets & info: www.glenstreet.com.au
BY RITA BRATOVICH