Coliseum Theatre, Oldham; Friday 27th April, 2018
A mysteriously silent phone call in the early morning; a pair of men’s slippers under the bed; big, big bunches of flowers everywhere – too many flowers it seems, so many bouquets that some end up dumped in the bath. The hopelessly lovestruck Greg is only one month into his new relationship but he just can’t stop his curio-suspicionism from grabbing the pulleys and levers of his impressionable young mind and steering him onto an embarrassingly desperate journey to get to the bottom of things.
Agitated by girlfriend Ginny’s not-so-plausible explanations, Greg decides to secretly follow his new lover to her parents’ home in the countryside. Today, that kind of behaviour might lead to a restraining order, but in the 1960s this formed the basis of Relatively Speaking – Alan Ayckbourn’s hilarious comedy caper that brilliantly explores the transition between a prim and proper view of establishment-approved relationships and the then newly emerging world of sexual liberation and freedom.
Relatively Speaking is a hilarious comedy that charts the inevitable chaos and confusion that ensues when one small lie turns into many others, eventually leading to a disastrous situation where, before long, the whole world seems to be trapped in a web of conspiracy from which there seems to be no hope of safe escape.
This is a story of deception and cover-ups, the opening scenes are more like a Hitchcock thriller (fuelled by the clearly 1960s visual theme) than a comedy as Greg uncovers more and more clues that point to Ginny trying to hide something. There are scenes of excruciating tension as Ginny attempts to put distance between herself and Greg’s ever more inquisitive and accusatory suspicions.
But most of the action takes place in the tranquil serenity of a beautifully kept country garden, and that’s where the mood switches from being pseudo-sinister to outright farcical. The tension of the opening scenes unwinds slowly and delicately whilst the intrigue as to where the plot might be going just grows and grows into a deliciously frustrating hunger to know where this will all end.
There are genuinely hilarious moments as pieces of the complex plot begin to fall into place. Star of the show is Matt Connor in the role of Greg – portrayed as an otherwise perfectly polite young man who doesn’t realise that his behaviour is spiralling into something that can only be described as worryingly obsessive.
Continuing the dual-persona theme is Lianne Harvey in the role of Ginny, who comes across as both manipulative and scheming but also as a victim of circumstance and (what would be regarded today as) unfair 1960s expectations of female sexuality.
Completing the cast are the excellent Crispin Letts (Philip) and Jo Mousley (Sheila) – together they paint the perfect picture of a married, older couple who work desperately hard in order to uphold the establishment’s firm and resolute need to keep up appearances at all costs.
Relatively Speaking is a world-class piece of theatre writing, a show with a deep and complex plot that keeps the audience guessing till the end. This is a neatly produced and brilliantly entertaining performance – one which simultaneously induces an agonising sense of cringing embarrassment as well as a salacious lust to know what happens next.
|Visual pleasure||Started in a tiny 1960s bedsit before flipping over to a country garden which is where most of the drama unfolded. The outdoor scenes were so alluring, felt like being a guest at a garden party.||4|
|Auditory pleasure||Mostly spoken word with no music, but it worked due to the strength of the story being told.||2|
|Architecture & Theme||This is an astonishingly good piece of writing, the way in which the audience is dragged deeper and deeper into the conspiracy is so clever and manipulative.||5|
|Artistic delivery||All four performers were excellent, so many aspects of each character came through. Matt Connor stole the limelight though as the foolishly naive Greg, dopey and somewhat ridiculous in his desperation, yet still so loveable.||5|
|Overall impact||A thoroughly entertaining show, the pace is slow and relaxed but the sheer depth and complexity of the plot makes this a performance that you just can’t take your eyes off.||5|
|0||Detrimental – This aspect of the performance was so bad that it made the overall experience worse|
|1||Weak – This aspect of the performance was poor|
|2||Adequate – This aspect of the performance was perfectly acceptable, though nothing special|
|3||Good – This aspect of the performance was above average, it pleased in some way|
|4||Excellent – This aspect of the performance was much better than normal, it was impressive|
|5||Awe-inspiring – This aspect of the performance was exceptional, new boundaries were pushed.|