How the Other Half Loves

Posted by Laurence Green

Subtext and subterfuge come to the fore in this first-rate production of Alan Ayckbourn's much-treasured comedy How the Other Half Loves, writes Laurence Green.

How the Other Half Loves

It is not very often that a play can seem as fresh as when it was first written 47 years ago  but this is indeed the case with Alan Ayckbourn's comedy of matrimonial mishaps How the Other Half Loves which returns to the West End (Theatre Royal Haymarket) in a first rate new production directed bu Alan Strachan.

As Bob and Fiona clumsily try to cover up their affair, their spouses' intervention only adds to the confusion. William and Mary Featherstone become hopelessly stuck in the middle, falsely accused of adultery and with no idea how they've become involved. The plot , which is further complicated by the fact that Fiona's husband Frank is also the boss of Bob and William, crescendos to two disastrous dinner parties on successive nights, after which the future of all three couples appear to be in jeopardy.

This tale of social graces and personal misunderstandings is typical of early Ayckbourn, featuring three couples whose lives intertwine as the playwright focuses on the middle classes and their attitude to marriage and remains one of the celebrated writer's most famous comedies. Yet this portrait of three very different marriages that turns into a spirited game of mixed doubles feels as relevant today as when it was originally staged with its sharp insights into class and marriage while beneath the laughs lurks a sense of despair are much in evidence.

Ayckbourn regular Alan Strachan draws excellent performances from his well-chosen cast, Nicholas Le Prevost is spot on as the benign absent-minded Frank, while Jenny Seagrove perfectly conveys Fiona's bored and cooly regal demeanour. Jason Metrells is fine as the rowdy and confident Bob while Tamzin Outhwaite impresses as the gutsy hot-blooded and frustrated Teresa, who is married to Bob, and Matthew Cottle fully convinces as the pedantic bully, William, who is forever slapping his wife's wrist.  But for me, the real scene stealing performance comes from Gillian Wright, best known for her role as Jean Slater in Eastenders, as the timid unsure Mary Featherstone and she is very touching in her ultimate rebellion.

We have always associated AlanAyckbourn with being a master of subtext and subterfuge and nowhere is this more in evidence than in this much-treasured comedy.

How the Other Half Loves

Runs at Theatre Royal Haymarket until Saturday 25 June 2016.

Box office: 020 7930 8800.


© Alastair Muir: HTOHL - production images

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