It’s always a pleasure to see one of our most loved actresses, Felicity Kendal, on stage. A superb comic performer, she really comes into her own in Lindsay Posner’s revival of Alan Ayckbourn’s Relatively Speaking, which opened at Wyndham’s Theatre last night. The show confirms that when it comes to farce, Kendal is unmatched.
Relatively Speaking was Ayckbourn’s first West End hit, in 1967 – the summer of love – and it’s a comedy of mistaken identity surrounding adultery, with a battle of the sexes as a biting undercurrent. A young girl (Kara Tointon) about town travels from London to Buckinghamshire, pursued covertly by her boyfriend (Max Bennett), who aims to meet her parents, but instead encounters her lover and his suspicious wife. It’s a slim affair and all the more impressive for that: sleek and streamlined in construction, Posner puts his foot down and races through in under two hours.
Tointon and Bennett play the young sixties swingers convincingly, and are a pleasure to watch. Though Peter McKintosh’s designs are excellent, it’s a relief to report this production is nostalgia-free. Ayckbourn’s characters seem real and recognisable, regardless of the crazy situations they find themselves in. It’s a welcome take on this most mythic of decades, as well as being the key to great comedy.
The philandering Philip is played impeccably by Johnathon Coy. This golf-playing, sherry-spitting adulterer provides further insight into Ayckbourn’s changing times – and yet more laughs. There’s a joyousness in the writing that makes you feel Ayckbourn is having as much fun as the audience, with the hoops he jumps through to avoid resolution. The characters discover the truth while simultaneously pretending more and more.
No one plays this game more deliciously than Kendal. As the slightly dim, yet ‘perfect’ wife, she knows less than anyone, a position Kendal exploits to gain our sympathy. Kendal is a spry figure, full of energy, commanding attention with perfect timing. She could easily steal every scene, such is her charisma, but her disciplined performance is never overplayed. It’s only fitting that in the end Kendal gets the upper hand and the last of the evenings many laughs.
Until 31 August 2013
Photo by Nobby Clarke
Written 21 May 2013 for The London Magazine