Alan Ayckbourn is considered a great for a reason and How the Other Half Loves, one of his many big hits, showcases his masterful comic touch and his technical ingenuity in what remains a pretty insightful play about marriage and adultery, and class and social hierarchy.
Fiona Foster (Caroline Langrishe) and Bob Philips (Leon Ockenden) are having an affair. Not an easy thing to do at the best of times, but made a lot trickier given Fiona is the wife of Bob’s boss. Add to that, Fiona is a woman of wealth and means, and Bob, well, isn’t, and it all gets a bit awkward. Especially now that each of their spouses is on to them.
Frank Foster (Robert Daws) is sure his wife is up to something, only he is so bumbling and naïve that he can’t seem to piece together a pretty easy jigsaw. But Teresa Philips (Charlie Brooks) isn’t so dim – she’s smart, she’s shrewd and she is pretty determined to wheedle out the truth.
Only both Frank’s and Teresa’s attempts to uncover the truth are thrown a curve ball when both Fiona and Bob point their fingers at William Featherstone (Matthew Cottle), who also works for Frank, and his painfully introverted wife, Mary (Sara Crowe). They are an unsuspecting and ordinary couple, but they immediately find themselves thrown in at the deep end when they are invited to dinner by both Frank and Teresa respectively, as each looks to expose their partner’s infidelity.
And so, what follows, at the heart of this play, is one of the most famous scenes from Ayckbourn’s (mightily impressive) back-catalogue. Blending time and location for supreme comic effect, the two dinner parties – which by the play’s own timeline are held on subsequent evenings in two different houses – are run simultaneously on stage, with the bewildered Mary and William Featherstone constantly switching back and forth between the two scenes. It’s fast, it’s furious and it is laugh-out-loud funny.
But all of this farce conspires to only muddy the waters even more for Frank and Teresa – just who is having the affair with whom??!
This touring show is based on the 2016 West-End revival from director Alan Strachan, but what marks out this incarnation of the production is the terrific cast of actors. Each performance is impressive, and each fleshes out characters that run the risk of being caricatures.
Robert Daws helms the show beautifully as the blundering Frank and Charlie Brooks is positively effervescent as the strong-minded Teresa, but it’s hard to look past the wonderful Sara Crowe as Mary Featherstone. Her comic timing is perfection but, more than this, her performance breathes depth into this woman kept under the thumb by her controlling husband. That Mary eventually finds her own voice is one of the most satisfying elements of this comedy.
But, look, I know this Ayckbourn play doesn’t scream relevance; it was written in the 1960s and, in places, that does show. Its depiction of the working class feels condescending at times and its gender politics can make you wince (you wouldn’t dare see any references to hitting a woman being played for laughs these days). But, nevertheless, this excellently executed revival makes for an extremely fun night out.
23rd – 28th October: Guildford Yvonne Arnaud
30th October – 4th November: Cambridge Arts Theatre
6th – 11th November: Everyman Theatre, Cheltenham
20th – 25th November: Brighton Theatre Royal
27th November – 2nd December: Norwich Theatre Royal