Sunday, February 22, 2009

Relatively Speaking

I'm very fond of amateur drama, so was well pleased when R happened to see the notice for this amateur production at one of his bridge sessions. We had the pleasure of seeing two Aykbourn plays in one week, this time in the elegant, vaguely tea-dance setting of the Beckenham Public Hall, with chandeliers overhead and Impressionist prints gracing the walls. There was a warmth and friendliness of reception which you just don't get in the West End.

In 1970 I trod the boards here myself, playing Miss Phoebe in 'Quality Street' in an under-rehearsed production best forgotten. I belonged to a group based in neighbouring Penge, with Anerley Town Hall as our usual stage venue.

Beckenham Amateur Dramatic Society made an excellent choice of Alan Aykbourn's fool-proof four-hander, 'Relatively Speaking' for their entry in the Bromley Theatre Guild's Full Length Play Festival. It was a great opportunity to show-case acting and directing talents.

This play is one of Ayckbourn's frothiest, albeit with familiar dark undertones of middle-class marital angst. Like 'Woman in Mind' now playing in the West End, most of the action takes place in a quintessential English garden, but instead of losing her marbles middle-aged Sheila, played with superb amused tolerance by Diane Hollidge, puts up with her erring husband's 'business' trips but hints at indiscretions of her own.

The comic plot involves a visiting twenty-something couple. Ginny travels into the Kent countryside to tell her boss Philip, who happens to be Sheila's husband, to stop pestering her. She's decided to settle for nerdy but nice Greg, played by a thoroughly likeable James Mercer. Having told Greg she's going to see her parents, she leaves him behind. The puzzled Greg follows her and the resulting dialogue is a feast of dramatic irony as each one of the quartet speaks what seems to be nonsense to the others as misunderstandings proliferate.

Catalyst-for-trouble Ginney, in a sparkling performance from Sarah Mann, is well balanced by an exasperated David Whiting as Philip, who paces the stage shouting 'Where's the hoe?' or wriggles on tenterhooks at the dinner table where one false word could be his undoing. Here too, as with 'Woman in Mind' the garden is a metaphor for troubled marriage.

Apart from the initial scene in a London bedsit where the space seemed too shallow for even two occupants, the direction, the lighting and the pace of the garden encounters, with characters coming and going gave the sense of a world offstage that's always a prominent feature of an Aykbourn play.
Although I haven't seen any of the other entries for the Bromley Theatre Guild Festival (so far) I would say there's a good chance this will carry off a prize.

About the author and the play:

Bromley Theatre Guild Festival:

Beckenham Amateur Dramatic Society:

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