Malvern Theatres, Malvern – until 30 September 2017
In my humble opinion, the ultimate specialist in farce is Alan Ayckbourn and nowhere is my point more finely demonstrated than in How The Other Half Loves. A classic, fast-paced, quick-humour-packed bundle of confusion and chaos which it could be so easy to lose the thread of if it’s not directed and performed on point.
The current UK tour which has docked at Malvern Theatres this week has a cast de force, not a weak link among them and all of whom bring to life the patter and intricacies of Ayckbourn’s script. The basis of the story centres around Frank and Fiona Foster – Frank is the oblivious boss over Bob Phillips and William Featherstone. Frank’s oblivious to the fact that Fiona is having an affair with Bob, and the story waving from the conniving lovers leads to Williams and his unwitting and perpetually nervous wife, Mary landing themselves in the middle of a farce. Also add Bob’s wife Teresa to the mix, she has one baby, no job and an active interest in articles that are published in The Guardian.
As Bob and Fiona’s untruths come nicely to the boil, their deceit coincides with Frank’s dinner party plans with the Featherstones and as if that wasn’t enough, Teresa decides to invite the dull pair to dine with her and Bob. The result is the audience being treated to simultaneous dinner parties at opposite ends of the scale with a fraught Mary and a wet William! Meanwhile Fiona is remaining tight lipped and sticking to her lies and vagueness for as long as she can.
Caroline Langrishe is exceptional as Fiona, I’ve seen the piece performed many times in the past and she is by far the best I have seen in the role. Her comic timing is impeccable and she synchronises superbly well with Robert Daws as Frank. Daws takes his performance to another level entirely, facial expressions speaking volumes and his physical comedy ability coming into its own. Matthew Cottle, I have seen in the role of William before and there is nobody better as the nice but dim Accountant – this is his role without a doubt. Sara Crowe is a joy as timid Mary the Mouse, hiding behind her husband, contending with Sherry which she can’t stand and enduring torment from a mischievous Bob. Leon Ockenden and Charlie Brooks steal the show as the sparring Bob and Teresa, we never see their baby but we know that he’s up to no good, unsupervised while they are either at each other’s throats, making up or leaving the flat unattended.
The set lends itself to the genre, plenty of entrances and exits and clever use of interweaving the flat belong to the Phillips’s versus the grandeur of the Foster residence. At no time was it not evident which property we were ‘in’. That in itself is an art!
If you’ve never seen an Ayckbourn play before, this is a fine introduction to his genius and if you’re familiar with his work – you will get a real kick out of this gem.