Monday, 9 March 2020

REVIEW: Relatively Speaking at the Mill at Sonning

The Mill at Sonning certainly seems to know and understand the audiences it serves with a mixed programme of seventies comedies, classic thrillers and a top class Christmas Musical presented in an intimate theatre space after a pleasant buffet of pie, salmon or curry. This season begins with a revival of Alan Ayckbourn's first big hit in 1967, Relatively Speaking.

His phenomenal writing and directing career created many huge theatrical hits of the seventies and eighties which I was fortunate to see on their West End debuts including Absurd Person Singular, Norman Conquests, Bedroom Farce, Sisterly Feeling, Way Upstream, Intimate Exchanges and Chorus of disapproval. However I had missed Relatively Speaking until the sparkling production in the round at Salisbury Playhouse in 2019 with a glorious garden set, so it was fresh in my mind.

The play has all the elements that made his comedies so wonderful. Witty one liners, normal middle class families in crisis and a unique understanding of how to structure theatrical plots to create chaos out of seemingly normal situations. Here the premise is simple a young man Greg, follows his girlfriend of a month, Ginny to her parents’ home to ask for her hand in marriage. What could go wrong?

The rather slow first scene set in Ginny's London flat sets up their relationship and her mysterious admirer who showers her with flowers and chocolates and leaves his size 10 under her tiny bed. However the comedy explodes into life when the action transfers to the country and Greg arrives to spark a flurry of misunderstandings and confusion. Robin Hereford directs and demonstrates he knows how to get the best from the rather dated situation after years of working with Ayckbourn as an actor and director. Each confusion is well pointed and paced and the characters reactions delightfully highlighted.

James Simmons plays the hang dog Philip at the centre of the confusion desperately trying to cover his own tracks while being mislead up his own garden path. Christopher Bonwell as Greg is the catalyst for the verbal chaos as he stumbles into the country garden unannounced. When Ginny, played by Lianne Harvey arrives the interactions become even more complicated. Only the serene Rachel Fielding as Shelia takes it all in her stride and navigates herself carefully and calmly. Every comic twist and turn is well delivered with marvellous facial expressions.

The limitations of the stage space are managed to create the two settings with a
charming country house back cloth painted by Natasha Elcox being the central feature of Michael Hart's functional set. 

The audience ripples with appreciative laughter throughout, perhaps reacting to the recollection of train fares of 19 shillings and 6 old pence but also admiring the brilliant trademark writing that features all Ayckbourn's brilliant comedies. It is another good production typical of the Mill's creative team offering a good night's entertainment.

Review by Nick Wayne 

Rating: ★★★★

Seat: Row F | Price of Ticket: £62 including 2 course dinner

Photography credit: Andreas Lambis
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