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Relatively Speaking at Milton Keynes Theatre

Published by: Alison Smith on 15th Nov 2016 | View all blogs by Alison Smith

Reviewed by Alison Smith 14th November 2016  

Alan Ayckbourn’s play, Relatively Speaking had its premiere in 1965 during the decade of the sexual revolution and changes in social conventions. In the 60s a young lady with an ‘interesting’ past – well four to five lovers - and a young man, recently deflowered, who cohabit after knowing each other for a month may have seemed outré, but in 2016 anything goes. For this reason the first act of Relatively Speaking is fairly dull stuff. Nobody is even mildly shocked by a young couple living together, nor by male (almost) nudity in the Home Counties on a Monday evening in November. Still this act is crucial for the scene setting. Greg (Antony Eden) is somewhat concerned about some objects in his girl’s bedsit – bouquets of flowers, gifts of chocolates, a pair of man’s black slippers and strange phone calls. 

The young lady in question, Ginny (Lindsey Campbell) claims she has forsaken all others for Greg, but doubt exists in his mind and when she purports to visit her parents for the weekend he decides to follow, having found an address handily scribbled on a cigarette packet. Of course the house is not her parents’ house at all, but that of her middle aged sugar daddy; the fun begins when Greg arrives at the house before Ginny.

This is the start of a perfectly-constructed comedy in middle England with middle-class people. And it is their conventional class behaviour which causes most laughter. Sheila, (Liza Goddard) is the wife of Ginny’s soon-to-be-ex-lover, Philip  (Robert Powell). Their marriage is going through difficulties, but following the social rules of the day she remains the dutiful wife, subservient to her husband and accepting of his idiosyncrasies.  Liza Goddard plays her role beautifully, slightly dippy but charming and polite, so polite in fact that she does not inquire who Greg is – that would not be form. Philip is a grump; a middle-aged, egotistic man going through his mid-life crisis and uncomfortable at lunch between his wife and his mistress.  And even though he is playing away from home he is jealous of his wife’s trip to Kent and letters she receives. In fact infidelity is the crux of the play and with that arises deeper issues of honesty and trust, which both couples have to face. But the depiction of Philip and Sheila’s long marriage is a master class of understanding and tenderness. 

Ayckbourn’s script is skilfully written; it is replete with clever innuendos and droll misunderstandings.The interpretation of the script by the four actors is perfect and their comic timing excellent; the repartee is batted back and forth seemingly effortlessly and this further emphasises the quality of the writing.

The second set is idyllic – a substantial house with climbing wisteria, potted plants, well-trimmed privet hedges. The garden looks its best in the summer sunshine and this is the perfect backdrop to the drama that evolves – a young couple starting out on a shared life and the older couple coming to the realisation that they mean the world to each other.

This is not a world shattering drama; it is cosy and comforting,somewhat nostalgic but principally very funny.

Relatively Speaking is at Milton Keynes Theatre until Saturday 19th November. 

0844 871 7652 

Booking fee applies



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