‘How the other half Loves’ explores the different social attitudes to supposed infidelity. This, six hander play (three couples), set in the 1960’s, contains all the hallmarks of strong comic plotting with moments of extreme farce. Originally written by Alan Ayckbourn in 1970, being his second work, much waited for after the success of his first ‘Relatively Speaking’ (1967), receiving just as much acclaim, proving Ayckbourn was no one hit wonder, but a writer of genuine talent.
The Fosters, a polite, upper middle-class couple in a tired marriage, where haughty Fiona (Caroline Langrishe) tells bumbling Frank (played extremely well by Robert Daws) his prods are no longer effective, sets the scene for classic humour with the laughs coming thick and fast. The Philllp’s played by Charlie Brooks (with great enthusiasm) and Leon Ockenden (performing in his first Ayckbourn play and at times showing it) are the younger, lower middle-class family, divulging themselves with more rough edges but just as much cunning intent as the Foster’s. When Fiona strays with one of Frank’s employees (Bob Phillips), staying out late one night. What follows is a hilarious sequence of events of miss understandings where nobody quite knows who is doing what to whom.
The set was cleverly designed with two interiors mixed and matched into one each owned by our two couples (Foster’s & Phillip’s), the décor helping us to see who and what they are. It becomes quickly obvious what is happening as two conversations occur in the different houses almost on top of each other, which must be a challenge for the performers. The audience are invited in to peak at these two differing couples by class and attitude.
The dinner party scene is Ayckbourn at his best. The staging and open transparency of two different parties, simultaneously performed around one table is a mastery of stage craft and comic timing that could only work in theatre and not on TV or film. Here much of the comedy work rests with the nerdy Featherstone’s (the third couple) played excellently by Matthew Cottle and Sara Crowe, who are the unknowing victims of the other pairs folly’s. English dinner parties are a favourite theme of Ayckbourn in exploring the social manners of class to great comedy effect, notably in ‘The Norman Conquests’ (1975) But all completely different in execution but the same results, complete hilarity.
At the front of the stage are two phones each owned by the two couples (Fosters & Phillips) and both used to great comic effect, helping tell the stories and set up meetings. Hence the reason this play still has to be set in the sixties, as acclaimed director Alan Strachan explains ‘you have to do it as a period piece, partly because a great deal of the play involves telephone technology and was written long before iPhone’. Indeed, this is Strachan’s third revival of the work having directed versions in 1976 & 1988, begging the question why Producer Bill Kenwright has brought it back at this time, given the subject matter is slightly dated and has little relevance in today’s society. However, at the time of writing social attitudes were changing and this firmly underlines the more open hypocritical opinions to infidelity which are still with us today.
Throughout the play, the web of comic plot, intrigue and surprise was built extremely well but with a rather unsatisfactory end, almost to the point the author was not quite certain how to fully resolve what had gone before.
Matthew Willetts MA is the Director of Comicus who has over 35 years experience in television, film, theatre, and comedy club/cabaret entertainment, working as a performer, screenwriter, producer and agent. He lectured at Southampton Solent University in Comedy, Screenwriting, Television, Theatre & Radio. Matthew can sometimes be seen and heard on TV & Radio and often quoted in the national press and media publications. As well as speaking regularly at festivals and industry conferences, he has been a judge at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival and the Montreux Television Festival.