Sharp and comic timing is needed to really make this Alan Ayckbourn play really work – thankfully the cast keep things moving with great pace and energy.
Three couples. Three very different marriages and two disastrous dinner parties and a whole lot of suspicion and confusion should give you some indication of the fun to be had watching this brilliantly funny play.
Directed by Alan Strachan, this production of Ayckbourn’s follow up to Relatively Speaking is sharp and a joy to watch from beginning to end thanks to strong cast performances and the wonderful set design by Julie Godfrey.
The whole production is cleverly structured, meaning that although characters may appear on the stage together they aren’t necessarily all together. The split set divides the space up to great effect, allowing the audience to see two different scenes to great effect – particularly during the two disastrous dinner parties, leading to some spectacular moments of acting from Matthew Cottle as William and Gillian Wright as Mary as they switch dinner parties in a split second.
It is a very observational piece of theatre, which showcases three very different couples. First there are the Fosters (Jenny Seagrove and Nicholas Le Prevost) an upper class and very traditional married couple, then there is the Phillips (Andrea Lowe and Jason Merrells)a more modern and tempestuous relationship and finally the Featherstone’s (Matthew Cottle and Gillian Wright) who are caught up in the other couple’s disputes against their will.
To make the piece really work, it requires performances that are sharp with excellent comic timing. Thankfully, this cast provides it consistently. Jenny Seagrove as the bored housewife who seeks a bit more excitement is eloquent, glamorous and a little bit distant – but allows the audience to see her frustration with her husband emerge to raise a little bit of sympathy.
Meanwhile, Nicholas Le Prevost delivers the standout performance as the bumbling Frank. He fumbles his way through every situation brilliantly and equally has some of the best lines of the evening. There is a charm and gracefulness to his performance that makes his the most likeable character out of them all.
Andrea Lowe is a spirited Teresa, whose frustration at the backward way thinking of her husband Bob towards what her ‘role’ is has plenty of bite and intelligence. Jason Merrells as Bob is suitably insufferable and arrogant – demanding cups of coffee and tea to be made for him and genuinely believing that he is desirable to every woman.
Matthew Cottle and Gillian Wright deliver a great portrayal of the couple stuck in the middle of everything, with Wright’s mannerisms as Mary conveying her sense of uncertainty and lack of confidence and Cottle’s cluelessness as William is quite endearing.
The trouble is that some moments feel as though they are being dragged out too much – in particular towards the end when everything is resolved, but with much sidetracking in between, distracting from the main purpose of the scene. There is also difficulty in understanding the length of the scene changes, some taking more than a couple of minutes (or so it seems) that it distracts from the flow of the story.
However, overall it is a wonderfully put together piece of theatre that is delivered to a high standard through a wonderful cast and creative team.
How the Other Half Loves is playing at the Duke of York’s Theatre until the 1st October. To book tickets visit: ATG Tickets, Ticketmaster.co.uk, Discount Theatre.com, Last Minute.com, Theatre Tickets Direct.co.uk, Love Theatre.com, Theatre People.com and UK Tickets.co.uk.