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Watermill - Relatively Speaking

17th February to 26th March 2011.

Review from Newbury Theatre.

Relatively Speaking is one of Alan Ayckbourn’s earliest plays, and was his first big success. It came to the West End in 1967 after its premiere in Scarborough in 1965.

1967 – the summer of love. In Ginny’s flat, Greg and Ginny seem to be in love, but nerdy Greg is jealous and has some doubts about Ginny. At Philip and Sheila’s expensive house in the country there are problems too; more jealousy and suspicion. The arrival of Greg and Ginny doesn’t help matters…

The play got off to a disappointing start. The first scene, in the flat, was slow and rather stilted, but it was necessary to establish the background for the rest of the action, in the country. And it was here that the play really took off, in a masterly series of misunderstandings. I won’t spoil it by going into the details, but the genteel puzzlement and politeness of the characters was so very British, it made you want to laugh and cry, with joy, frustration and embarrassment.

Greg Haiste, as Greg, and Ellie Beaven, as Ginny, made an unlikely couple (“It’ll never last”, says Sheila). David Acton and Gillian Bevan were delightful as Philip and Sheila, clinging precariously to a crumbling relationship. Director Orla O’Loughlin melds them all together with some long, puzzled pauses as they try to work out what’s happening.

The set deserves a mention, for its seamless change from the cramped flat to the spacious country garden.

Don’t be put off by the first scene; stick with it and you’ll be laughing all through the rest of the play.


Review from the Newbury Weekly News.

Who's in love with whom?

Classic tangled plot becomes sheer Ayckbourn genius at The Watermill

Relatively Speaking, at The Watermill, Bagnor, until March 26

The Financial Times of July 8, 1971, quoted Alan Ayckbourn as saying: 'I wrote this play for Scarborough. For people who had had their holidays spoilt by rain.' Relatively Speaking went on, not only to cheer up wet holidaymakers, but firmly establish Ayckbourn's reputation as a playwright.

Set in the 1960s, the play opens with a rumpled bed and a gonk (remember them?) perched on a chair. The inhabitants of the flat are Greg (Greg Haiste) who emerges from the bedclothes and Ginny (Ellie Beaven) who is getting ready to visit her parents (she says). Greg proposes, in spite of being rather bewildered by the number of gifts Ginny is receiving and the presence under her bed of a pair of size 10 men's slippers.

He decides to follow her to The Willows (taking the slippers) and meet her parents (in fact they are nothing of the kind) Philip (David Acton) and Sheila (Gillian Bevan). Greg arrives first and what follows is a continuous gloriously Ayckbourn set of misunderstandings as the so-Englishly-polite Sheila tries to understand the euphoric though rather baffled Greg. There are pearls not only around Sheila's neck but sprinkled throughout. I'm still chuckling-about her apologies that she only has sherry when Greg says he wants Ginny.

Greg's beloved arrives and the tangled plot becomes sheer entertaining genius as she confronts Philip, who has picked up on the idea that Greg wants to marry Sheila. The scenes between the different couples are a complete joy, with the frequent stricken silences and the expressions which accompany them as funny as the dialogue.

As the endearingly bewildered Greg, Haiste is superb in a performance matched equally by his fellow actors and particularly Bevan as Sheila, so typical of the Englishwoman who remains polite at all times and when in doubt offers something to drink or eat.

It is Sheila who, having finally understood the situation, brings things to an end - and don't forget those slippers in Greg's rucksack, they play their part too.

An ingenious set adds to the enjoyment of this Ayckbourn classic, directed by Orla O'Loughlin.


There are reviews from the Oxford Times ("a thoroughbred example of Ayckbourn on top comic form... just the show to brighten a dreary winter's evening"), The Public Reviews ("fluffy and insubstantial... the situation comedy and the cast's timing were impeccable" (3 stars)), The British Theatre Guide ("a hugely entertaining play performed by an accomplished cast... highly recommended"), What's On Stage ("stylish production... cast establish the necessary pace and expertly orchestrate the comic climaxes" (3 stars)), The Stage ("two attractive and convincing sets... succeeds admirably in doing justice to a much loved play") and Marlborough People ("will leave you feeling warmer on a cold winter’s night").