Welcome to Manchester Confidential
Reset Password
The Confidential websites will be undergoing routine updates. This may cause the sites to go offline. We apologise in advance for any inconvenience.

You are here: Manchester ConfidentialEntertainment & SportTheatre & Comedy.

Relatively Speaking review

Joan Davies enjoys Alan Ayckbourn’s vicar-less farce at the Library Theatre

Published on May 28th 2009.

Relatively Speaking review

Alan Ayckbourn’s Relatively Speaking, currently enjoying a revival at the Library Theatre, was written in the midst of the rule-breaking 1960s. The young playwright had been asked to write a play which would entertain Scarborough holidaymakers on rainy days. He’d also been advised to hone his skills by writing a ‘well-made play’, one which would conform to the rules so that Ayckbourn could more effectively break them in his future writing. Both purposes were achieved; Ayckbourn went on to become one of our most prolific and often rule-breaking playwrights, and Relatively Speaking entertained around the world, even in much sunnier climes than Scarborough.

Greg wants to marry Ginny, but Ginny seems to have a few secrets and rushes off to ‘visit her parents’ leaving a suspicious Greg behind. This being light comedy bordering on farce, Greg is not left behind for long and in fact arrives to visit her parents uninvited and ahead of Ginny. From then on the pace hots up and there are so many mistaken identities that it’s hard to believe there are only four characters.

The first scene is a bit lumpy, as the back story is established and we find we know more than Greg, but clearly not as much as Ginny. Library Theatre newcomer Simon Harrison plays Greg with an underlying and convincing innocence occasionally interrupted by an understandable suspiciousness while Leila Crerar, recently seen in Tom Stoppard's Rock ‘n’ Roll, plays Ginny, a woman clearly not above suspicion.

The second scene takes us initially into an audience comfort-zone as we meet the other couple, Sheila and Philip, married to one another for aeons. Played with immaculate timing by Lucy Tregear and Malcolm Scates, they exhibit the weary ability to interpret one another’s grunts and to misinterpret one another’s motives which seems to characterise some marriages, particularly on-stage marriages. It’s very funny.

With the arrival of Greg and eventually Ginny, the play moves towards a gentle farce of improbable situations and mistaken identities. It’s a clever comedy with few clever comedic lines. The dialogue is in simple, everyday language; it’s our understanding of the situation and the excellent timing of a highly collaborative cast which produces the humour.

Lucy Tregear is excellent as Sheila, a middle class woman of impeccable manners who appears to take everyone and everything at face value. Farce needs such a character and such a believable performance. Farce also needs superb teamwork, and Chris Honer’s direction ensures it’s there.

This play is not the full-blown farce of a great chase, trouserless vicars and concealed virgins. There’s no chase, no vicars and no virgins at all, concealed or otherwise. This is the Sixties after all. But it does build its laugh-out-loud humour on logic, moving towards the absurd.

You really do have to keep up. You need to know who everyone is, who they think everyone is, and who they think everyone thinks they are. And you do. Farce flatters the audience by giving it the power of knowledge. You know more than the characters on stage. Only when you’ve left the theatre do you begin to realise that it’s been made easy for you by the quality of the writing and the naturalistic yet well-paced performances.

Honer has kept the setting in the 1960s. The audience arrive to the soundtrack of changing times. The Kinks and The Beatles, reminders of the dramatic and permanent changes the decade introduced, Dave Brubeck’s jazz hit ‘Unsquare Dance’, a reminder that the beat groups didn’t have it all to themselves, and Freddie and the Dreamers, a reminder that there were some things from the Sixties that weren’t so cool and didn’t last. And the clothes look so cool, even modern.

Some regard the play as a period piece. I don’t agree. There’s a dated reference to pre-Thatcher foreign currency restrictions and I found Sheila’s willingness to let a stranger with no ID into her kitchen a little dubious. But that’s all that really dates it. There are no old-fashioned ideas in the play and little to place it in time. The play hardly touches the clamour of debate surrounding the sexual revolution but relies for its drive and humour on the timeless truths that those who cheat usually prefer not to be caught cheating and will occasionally lie to avoid being caught.

For those familiar with Ayckbourn’s later work, Relatively Speaking is an interesting study, giving a hint of dramatic powers which he would later develop, and themes, such as dysfunctional relationships, which he would later explore. Otherwise it’s a well-made play which can certainly entertain us on rainy days, in Manchester as in Scarborough and elsewhere.

Relatively Speaking
Library Theatre until Saturday 20 June
0161 236 7110


Like what you see? Enter your email to sign up for our newsletters which are chock-a-block with more great reviews, news, deals and savings.

To post this comment, you need to login.Please complete your login information.
Or you can login using Facebook.

Latest Rants


Believe me MONOPRIX more ASDA than Tesco....

 Read more

What are 'richest diary pastures'?

 Read more

Saw it a few years ago at the Opera House with Marcus Brigstocke as Arthur. Really good, silly fun.…

 Read more
David Smith

Crackerjack................whooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo. Strong current reference there.

 Read more

Explore The Site

© Mark Garner t/a Confidential Direct 2021

Privacy | Careers | Website by: Planet Code | SEO by The eWord