One of the first stage plays that I saw in my youth was Alan Ayckbourn’s Norman Conquests (all three in the trilogy as a matter of fact). I remember being mesmerized by the actors on stage, the set and of course Ayckbourn’s words. As a result of this early interaction, I look back and can contribute some of my early interest in the theatre directly to Ayckbourn and have always had a soft spot in my heart for him and his work because of it.
Sure there have been other plays by Alan that followed – Absurd Person Singular and Bedroom Farce are two that immediately come to mind – but with Ayckbourn’s prolific repertoire it is not difficult to understand that I never did see Relatively Speaking until now.
(You probably noticed I started calling Mr Ayckbourn by his first name … he did take my theatre virginity after all so felt some familiarity was in order).
As most of my experience with Alan’s plays happened very early in my formative theatre years it was with some trepidation that accompanied me to the theatre last night. You see, it has been many, many years since Alan has been part of my life and I couldn’t help but wonder if he would live up to the impression he made in my youth.
Fortunately Alan didn’t let me down last night and neither did the cast of the Comedy Theatre Co-op.
Ginny (Jenny Mitchell) is going off to the country home of her parents, Phillip (Bernard Cuffling) and Sheila (Jane Noble). Or at least that’s what she tells Gregory (Mark Gash), her soon to be fiancée. A tad suspicious, thinking Ginny is having an affair, Gregory follows her managing to actually arrive before her. Turns out Greg is right, Ginny is having an affair and Phillip and Sheila are not Ginny’s parents. Phillip, who has been Ginny’s lover, thinks Sheila is being unfaithful with Gregory.
And all of this even before Ginny arrives at the end of Act One!
The complicated levels of misunderstandings and misidentifications here are pure Ayckbourn. And while a lesser playwright and a lesser cast may have left the audience scratching their heads at intermission, the chatter during the break last night was simply about how much more “mis’es” Ayckbourn could squeeze into this two hour show.
Interestingly for me the two stand-outs of the show were on either pairing. While all four actors did great jobs it was Mark Gash as Gregory and Jan Noble as Sheila whose performances stood out.
Gash has just the right amount of befuddlement as he attempts to figure out what is happening but the real star of the show has to be Jane Noble. Noble moves from the polite English woman who accepts a strange man standing in her backyard to the betrayed wife determined to inflict as much pain as possible on her philandering husband but in a superbly controlled (British) sort of way.
Doing double-duty as Philip and Director, Bernard Cuffling manages his cast and the production without excess. Set Designer Ann Booth continues the “excesslessness” of the show with simple set pieces that move us quickly from Ginny’s London flat to Philip and Sheila’s country estate with ease. Ayckbourn spends much time setting up both locations with his words so the minimal set worked in perfect harmony here.
As we walked to the SeaBus to make our trip home the conversation, as it usually does, gravitated to this review. Of course everyone has an opinion (just like me) and they can be widely different. But interestingly my two fellow theatre goers and I reached a consensus: Ayckbourn’s writing carries the day, Jan Noble was a definite stand-out and yes, it was well worth venturing outside Vancouver to find some fine theatre.
And finally, I would be remiss if I didn’t send a great big thank you to Alan for not crushing my childhood memories and re-affirming my love of theatre.