How The Other Half Loves
By Alan Ayckbourn
How Clean Is Your House?
TLT has a confession to make - she and her joined-at-the-chassis companion have now seen the latest production of How The Other Half Loves, an early 1969 Ayckbourn once, nay twice ... Rather appropriate for a play with twin scenery mash-up (of which more later) focussing on two households on the same stage.
For it seemed only fair and rather apt to have a re-view rather than just a review of a preview (are you keeping up?) as, on top of the usual farcical choreography, the split between households make it fiendishly difficult fto stage. And according to this Terri Paddock podcast the play has only had three weeks' rehearsal with veteran Ayckbourn director Alan Strachan.
It's the late sixties and Frank Foster (a magnificently dangerously bumbling Nicholas Le Prevost) and Bob Phillips (watchful wide-boy Jason Merrells ) work in the same - never-named - firm. In fact they live only a short bus ride away, but they might as well be living on different planets except for one thing ...
While Bob's wife Terry (Tamzin Outhwaithe in dayglo mini dresses and shiny pink plastic boots!), short for Theresa, neglects the housework, penning feminist letters to the Editor of The Guardian in between baby feeds and nappy changes, Bob occupies himself with Frank's cut-glass beauty wife Fiona (Jenny Seagrove).
The regime of bickering accusations and underhand dealings in the Phillips' household and imperial old-school-tie combined with expert hostess with the mostest, whose dress sense ranges from chic-Barbara-Castle to French couture, in the Foster's seems set to continue for ever ... Ah, except for one thing ...
Both Fiona and Bob invent an alibi for a Wednesday evening tryst involving accountant William (tyro-husband and obsequious employee Matthew Cottle) and his mousey put-upon wife Mary.
Lives and dirty dealings unravel in a royally messy twin-time scale debacle with dinner parties on consecutive nights but played at the same time. And the unwitting Featherstones swivel on their chairs through time and space, going from the Fosters' colonial cuisine to the Phillips' far-from-electrifying 1960s' supermarket convenience foods.
Was it worth seeing the show twice? Very definitely yes. Nicholas Le Prevost is an experienced hand whose performances are finely judged down to the position of his napkin, keeping the production pivoting around him. Ditto for Jenny Seagrove, utterly convincing when switching tactics with an (almost) unflappable glacial ease as the diplomatic adulterous wife.
But it's the Phillips and the Featherstones who profit most from the three days' interlude between TLT's visits. The moves tightened and quickened up on the large Haymarket stage with the relationships and subtext deepened.
The accountant and his wife react to the dual dinner party as if operated by an electric switch to swap between dining rooms and houses with design by Julie Godfrey. Upper class Surrey imperiousness flashes to upwardly mobile conflicted welfare state semi-detached and back again.
There's also something very instinctively spot-on about the brutal sadism lurking beneath Philips' and Featherstone husbands' treatment of their wives, both of whom, in their different ways, begin to assert themselves while having to put up with their men's limitations.
Tamzin Outhwaithe puts in a punchy performance as Terry with flowing golden locks, presiding over a dysfunctional Last Supper as the crossed wires untangle themselves. Equally Gillian Wright's Mary gained greatly from a second viewing, finally achieving a mix of strength, pathos and her own diplomatic expediency as she embarks on her personal march to wifely freedom.
To be honest, the deep Haymarket stage is a tough call for a farce originally developed for theatre-in-the-round and there's still the potential for more speed and tightening up. But, judging from the change from preview to press night, TLT feels this will come. A classy production of a multilayered play with all characters pulling their weight (and wine corks!). So it's a psychedelic 1960s' green/amber light from TLT.