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 The Theatreguide.London Review

Relatively Speaking
Wyndham's Theatre  Summer  2013

This expert and sprightly revival of Alan Ayckbourn's first big success reminds us of how very inventive and very funny he was from the start, and also how his comedy was always built on an underlay of quiet sadness. 

Relatively Speaking is a masterwork of confused identities and crossed conversations. A young man pays a surprise visit on what he believes are his girlfriend's parents. They're not, but the older man is the girl's most recent lover, and he meanwhile gets it in his head that the younger guy is his wife's secret toyboy. 

The wife doesn't know who this stranger is, but decides the best course is to be a gracious hostess first and ask questions later. And then the girl shows up and, for her own reasons, clarifies some misunderstandings and encourages others. 

Did you follow that? It hardly matters. The key point is that once things get going, absolutely every conversation between any permutation of characters is at cross purposes, Ayckbourn skilfully structuring things so that everyone always says exactly what could almost make some sort of sense in what the other person thinks is the situation and is then equally flummoxed when the response almost makes some sort of sense in the reality he or she inhabits. 

Ayckbourn keeps the balls in the air with expert ease, and director Lindsay Posner and his cast clearly have a lot of fun basking in and adding to his cleverness.

In no particular order, Max Bennett makes the lad the essence of innocence, entertainingly putting his foot in it with every word and completely unaware of the havoc he's causing. 

Kara Tointon takes what seems at first to be a stock figure of the pretty girl and then surprises and delights us by showing her to be a lot more complicated than we first thought when, as the first one to work out what's going on, she exploits and manipulates it for her own ends. 

Jonathan Coy also takes what could be a stock figure, the dirty old man who is quick to moral outrage when he imagines the tables turned on him, and gives him both inventive new ways to look foolish and a leavening touch of pathos. 

And that consummate comedienne of underplaying Felicity Kendall carries off both the ditzy housewife who hasn't the foggiest idea what's going on but carries on regardless and the late discovery that this character may have more brains and good sense than the rest put together. 

This is laugh-out-loud comedy and a reminder that Alan Ayckbourn is not to be dismissed as merely a clever funnyman but is a leading contender for the mantle of greatest living British playwright.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review -  Relatively Speaking - Wyndham's Theatre 2013

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