Relatively Speaking's comedy moves slowly
By Alan Ayckbourn. Directed by Anthony F. Ingram. A Western Gold Theatre production. At the PAL Studio Theatre on Friday, November 1. Continues until December 1
This production is a sleeping pill.
The play itself is an odd mix of accomplishment and datedness. Playwright Alan Ayckbourn, who became an instant star when Relatively Speaking was first produced in 1965, is a master of comic plotting. In this script, young lovers Greg and Ginny visit a middle-aged couple, Philip and Sheila, in their posh country home. But Greg thinks that their hosts are Ginny’s parents, while Ginny knows darn well that Philip was once her boss and lover. With Ginny addressing her former boyfriend as Dad, Ayckbourn plays an ever more complicated game of mistaken identities. Structurally, the script is an impressive machine.
The play’s sexual world feels dated, however. The idea of an older boss screwing his young secretary might have been daring in 1965, when the workplace sexual scene was heating up, but it doesn’t generate much giddy amusement in 2013. And the script’s types, including the long-suffering wife and the scheming younger woman, feel claustrophobic, which may, of course, be part of the point.
Still, Relatively Speaking is so beautifully made that, played with the right attack, it should be able to generate laughs. Unfortunately, under Anthony F. Ingram’s direction, this Western Gold Theatre production proceeds so slowly it feels like it’s underwater. Anna Hagan plays Sheila with such understatement it’s like she’s not even trying to act; her British accent consists of an eccentric vowel sound about once every five minutes. Terence Kelly performs the role of Philip with more energy and considerably more success: his Philip gets apoplectic when things don’t go his way and it’s satisfying to see the old dick get his comeuppance.
While Kelly’s accent is barely mid-Atlantic, the younger actors—Jay Hindle as Greg and Stacie Steadman as Ginny—do us the favour of pretending to live in England. Hindle overplayed at first on opening night, then settled into a groove. Steadman delivers the most energized and most consistently satisfying comic performance of the evening. Ginny is a manipulator and a liar, but Steadman makes her a humanly comprehensible—and perfectly period-perky—manipulative liar.
Ultimately, Relatively Speaking is about the discomforts of monogamy—the entitlements, jealousies, betrayals, and boredom. In a top-notch mounting, we’d see more depth: more of Sheila’s humiliation in the face of her husband’s disdain, more of the viciousness in Philip’s selfishness, and so on. But this is not a top-notch production.