FringeReview UK 2016
The Duke of York revives Ayckbourn’s How the Other Half Loves with Bill Kenwright Productions. This 1969 comedy, directed by Alan Strachan for the third time, is he claims one of the few plays he admits he never tires of. Julie Godfrey neatly creates a very solid grand set, littering the other half’s lifestyle in the foreground.
Alan Strachan directs for the third time Ayckbourn’s 1969 How the Other Half Loves – one of the few plays he admits he never tires of – in this Duke of York revival with Bill Kenwright Productions. Julie Godfrey neatly creates a very solid grand set, littering the other half’s lifestyle in the foreground, though the extraordinary deftness with which characters play two spaces in one oblivious of each other is one of the joys of this transitional masterpiece.
Even more is the way the Featherstones react so clearly to either the Fosters or in a beat the Phillips, and back again whist transmitting so clearly their different register to each.
If 1965’s Relatively Speaking shows how polite unspoken misunderstanding breeds farce, How the Other Half Loves develops this along parallels that presages Absurd Person Singular where two couples are catalysed by the uncomprehending actions of another, each from a subtly different class. In the almost hapless Featherstones, particularly in William, we can glimpse the doggedly go-getting Sidney Hopcroft of the later dark comedy, here brought out blissfully by Matthew Cottle’s curious mix of willingness to please with an inability to apologize to the wife he controls with a ritual smack, as if she’s more than socially embarrassing.
Privileged Fiona Foster (Jenny Seagrove) tiring of complacent Frank (Nicholas Le Provost) has turned to laddish Bob Phillips, whose wife Teresa suspects something already. The two couples’ lives unfold in parallel, often bouncing off each other’s mores like commentaries – for instance how what each drinks exposes the other’s pretensions.
Fiona’s advised by Bob that the best alibi for their late tryst is to invoke the Featherstones, William being a colleague Bob and Frank barely know, and pretend each spouse is undergoing a crisis that Fiona or Bob’s attending to. Each of their spouses however think it a good idea to invite the unwitting Featherstones on two sequent nights to dinner and counselling, both of which evenings in the breakthrough second act, are played simultaneously.
The greatest coup and laughter’s the way William is accidentally soaked by wine the furious Teresa throws, now certain of her husband’s adultery. In parallel – though chronologically on the next night – Williams’ been fixing the cistern at the Fosters, and you double-take when Frank in another beat notices how wet William is: the toilet has leaked directly over him.
Seagrove’s quietly consummate in the grand manner. Le Provost’s baritonal de haut en bas here aptly conveys the habit of command without the comprehension to go with it, partly suggested by hopeless DIYing and an old-fashioned insistence on paternalist intervention over his subordinates. Gillian Wright’s slow worm-turning performance as the literally put-upon Mary brings the most unexpected denouement and by a fluky irony, the Featherstones’ marriage is indeed transformed, albeit quietly.
The Phillips’ somehow wish to survive all Bob’s flings and their essential amorousness is avidly brought out. You literally see times are changing though. Andrea Lowe’s not only volatile, you feel at the end she might branch out sexually and most of all personally. Starting out frustrated and sexually shelved, Lowe’s voltage and quick sympathy act as foil to Jason Merrells’ cocksure little rooster, a man still preternaturally able to spot a doormat.
The same options are lent to Frank and Fiona, where knowledge enacts a liberation far quieter than the obvious sexual one raging all around 1969. Ayckbourn’s genius is to show how it’s possible with unlikely people, and thus how far the revolutions have as it were penetrated. Strachan’s brilliance is so complete, so identified with this particular play, you forget how superbly founded it is.