On 6 August, a small group of us convened in the Barn to read Relatively Speaking by Alan Ayckbourn. It was a new play for many of the people present, including those who were familiar with other Ayckbourn works.
The play centres around two couples: Greg and Ginny – a young, in-love pair whose relationship is marred by Greg’s suspicion that he may not be Ginny’s only paramour – and Philip and Sheila – an older couple; Sheila may have had an affair, Philip most certainly has had extra-marital relations…with Ginny. When Ginny tells Greg a lie about where she is headed that day, the result – involving both couples – is classic farce, including mistaken identities; improbable, absurd conversations and several plot twists.
The initial reaction to Relatively Speaking among those in the group who know, or have performed in, other Ayckbourn plays was that it didn’t feel like an Ayckbourn. In particular, it was felt that Relatively Speaking lacked a sinister touch that lurks in other Ayckbourn works.
It is possible that the reason for this lies in the impetus behind the play, which was, as Ayckbourn mentions in his introduction to the play, to write a piece “which would make people laugh when their seaside holidays were spoiled by the rain and they came into the theatre to get dry before trudging back to their landladies”.
Despite this, it was noted that the rhythm of the play and the characterisation were what would be expected from an Ayckbourn piece.
Laughs were had at our play reading, but the humour was sparser than expected – we had a discussion about whether this was down to the pacing, which obviously would not be quite right during an initial reading. It was clear that it would need to be performed very quickly and fast-paced, but someone brought up the point that the play seemed to start off rather slowly – this is something that had been picked up on during another Ayckbourn reading.
It was felt that this was a deliberate move on Ayckbourn’s part, giving the audience time to get to know the characters before moving the action up a gear.
Another criticism levelled at Relatively Speaking was that it was, in the main, rather predictable. Many expressed a preference for other Ayckbourn works compared to this. One member of the group went slightly further, and asked whether audiences have grown out of Ayckbourn entirely as time and sensibilities have moved on.
In his introduction to Relatively Speaking, Ayckbourn notes: “In general, the people who liked this play when it was first seen remarked that it was ‘well constructed’; those that didn’t called it old-fashioned.”
Based on the views of those at the play reading on Tuesday, it could be argued that both of those opinions of Relatively Speaking hold true on a contemporary reading.
What do you think? Let us know if you’ve read or seen Relatively Speaking and want to agree or disagree with anything written here.
Future play readings:
- A Letter from the General by Maurice McLoughlin – Tuesday 13 August, 8pm
- Female Transport by Steve Gooch – Tuesday 20 August, 8pm
- A Chorus of Disapproval by Alan Ayckbourn – Tuesday 27 August, 8pm