Sunday, January 15, 2006

Theatre Marathon Continues

This weekend featured a Grand Theatre production of Alan Ayckbourn's Relatively Speaking.
It is a pure comedy, a British farce; most of the humour arises from the device of having two characters engaged in discussion, with each of them understanding entirely different things by the words being exchanged. And in this case, most of these discussions concern sexual relations among the characters, who are two young Londoners*, Ginny and Greg, and an older couple, Philip and Sheila, he a successful civil servant or the like. After a short setup with Greg and Ginny in Ginny's apartment, all characters are out at Philip and Sheila's country home, stepping all over one another's misunderstandings. Almost immediately from Greg's arrival at the country house, the laughs begin and they run almost completely uninterrupted to the end of the play. I wish it had gone on another half hour. The play finishes with a lovely little twist that is typical of Ayckbourn's craft, and turns your initial understanding of the ending slightly on its head.
In order to make the plot Ayckbourn used to work and generate hunour, the actor playing Greg has to come across as likable, slightly befuddled, and very eager to please, and Brendan Murray plays the role perfectly, even capturing for me a sense of the character's Englishness, though the English accent used grated on me for about 15 minutes before I got caught up happily in the play. A similar problem afflicted me with Ginny's accent; she has to come across as clearly somewhat duplicitous and manipulative, and yet one still has to sympathize with her. Newcomer Jenny Young was terrific; the character should also be fairly attractive, and the actress does a fine job there (and my new-found improved vision helped confirm that).
Barbara Worthy and Andrew Gillies seemed perfect to me as the older couple as well - she slightly dotty, and he living just past the edge of his ability to be relaxed, always scheming and pressing just a little more than he ought.
The ensemble performing was superb, and timing is vital here as well. No doubt a good deal of the credit here should go to director Gina Wilkinson, whom I failed to credit back in November for her great job playing the wife in 'Who is Sylvia'. Even the sets were the source of some pleasant amusement. The whole team involved made this sort of play seem easy to do, but I know it is NOT.
In the end it is nice to see really fine, tight and careful writing, weaving references back and forth. One thing I recall in 'Homechild' was an early reference to the daughter, who was coming to visit, not being willing to eat milk-based foods, a comment that got used to set up a joke about the home being on a dairy farm. That is the last I recall of it being mentioned in the play. In an Ayckbourn play, it would have come back a couple more times. Granted, they are different sorts of plays, but that density adds a pleasure all of its own.

*The Grand Theatre is in London, Ontario, but this reference is to the London in England.


At 4:34 PM, Blogger EclectEcon said...

I saw the same show with Alan. Let me add my thoughts, briefly:

The acting, directing, and staging were stupendous. The timing was spot-on.

I've acted in and seen lots of farces, and this production was extremely well-done.

I was less enthusiastic about the play itself, however. I loved some of the scenes where confusion reined, so well-described by Alan. At the same time, I thought the resolution was terribly incomplete and downright stupid; I had a hard time suspending my disbelief as much as was required at the end.

And no matter how well it was done, I sensed that the audience was dissatisfied with the ending as well.... when the lights went down, the applause was weak, most likely because it wasn't clear whether that signified the end of a scene or the end of the play.

Nevertheless, let me repeat: the production itself was stupendous.

At 4:37 PM, Blogger EclectEcon said...

Let me add that I am not a theatre marathoner, and I was not Alan's companion at Ruddigore, though I might very well have responded the same way.

At 4:50 PM, Blogger Alan Adamson said...

EclectEcon and I were deliberately there together at the Ayckbourn. My recollection is, in fact, that the applause stopped only when the lights came up, making it clear that we would get nothing from further curtain calls.
Moreover, the ambiguity at the end was something I think was deliberately intended by Ayckbourn (and there are two levels of it), and I, I think of a generation this was written for, thought Ayckbourn hit just the right (if nasty) tone.


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