How the Other Half Loves
Theatre Royal Bath
Alan Ayckbourn’s play of social satire and marital mayhem first staged in 1969 is now a period piece, set in an era before smart phones, before avocados were commonplace, and before wine drinking became a ubiquitous pleasure (then you opened a bottle for a dinner party).
So the comedy is dated – the humour, the attitudes towards class and women and marriage are all past their sell-by date. Yet this production, fresh from its acclaimed West End revival of 2016 and now on tour, is a hoot.
This is largely due to the artistry of an all-star cast, slick, snappy direction by Alan Strachan and an excellent set by Julie Godfrey that perfectly captures the period and allows the action to flow.
Bob Phillips (Leon Ockenden) and Fiona Foster (Caroline Langrishe) try to cover up their affair, but when their spouses intervene the innocent William (Matthew Cottle) and Mary Featherstone (Sara Crowe) become involved and Mary is accused of adultery. Misunderstandings multiply and the plot climaxes in two disastrous dinner parties on successive nights.
Ayckbourn’s device is to juggle time and space throughout the comedy so that events at different times and places take place simultaneously, culminating in the two-in-one dinner party at which both occasions play out together around one table.
This is the highlight of the play. It calls for perfect comic timing and this is what we get in spades, so that the scene is one of the funniest, cleverest pieces of theatre ever. Farce meets slapstick as the guests, the Featherstones, segue between one set of hosts and the other, a snap turn of a head, a marked pause or exaggerated facial expression hilariously marking the change.
The three couples do it brilliantly and there are moments of sublime comedy as when hot dinner plates are thrown around the table, or a drunk Teresa Phillips (Charlie Brooks) snatches up the wine bottle and, using it as a microphone, furiously belts out a few bars of Lulu’s song Shout.
Performances all round are superb, especially Sara Crowe who channels her inner Frank Spencer (Some Mothers do ‘Ave ‘Em) as the timid Mary too afraid to say no to a sherry which gives her the hiccups. Charlie Brooks is funny and feisty as the struggling young mum furious with her macho lothario of a husband Frank, well played by Coronation Street heartthrob Will Ockenden.
Caroline Langrishe is more Margot (The Good Life) as the socially superior Fiona, while Robert Daws is excellent as her blustering buffoon of a husband Frank. Matthew Cottle is a constant laugh as dull accountant William, subservient until he thinks himself cuckolded and then he comes out fighting.
It’s such a spectacularly good production with its fine cast and that oh-so-hilarious dinner party that this comedy should appeal to audiences beyond the usual diehard Ayckbourn fans. There were certainly plenty of laughs at Monday’s opening night performance.
How the Other Half Loves runs at the Theatre Royal Bath until Saturday 7 October. Call the box office on 01225 448844 or go online at www.theatreroyal.org.uk