Teresa Baron as Ginny and Rohan Gotobed as Greg – photos © Sean Owen
Jo Edye has with Crude Apache brought us some excellent and memorable shows in Norwich over many years in a wide variety of venues including many city parks in the summer and some charismatic venues including Dragon Hall and the Old Shoe Factory.
Sometimes these shows whilst always compelling have been something of a physical challenge given the hazards of a venue where the weather has a big impact on the comfort of performers and audience alike. So it was with some enthusiasm that I greeted the news that Jo had been invited to direct a play in February in the rather cosier although equally charismatic setting of the Maddermarket Theatre. I have been a visitor to this unique theatre since my childhood and it has a long deserved reputation as a host to some very good amateur drama productions.
The plays of Alan Ayckbourn are always sparkling and erudite, and Relatively Speaking, the seventh of the seventy-nine plays that Ayckbourn has written to date, was his first major success. First produced in July 1965 some of the details may now seem historically quaint but the story is as timely as ever. There are just four characters: a young couple newly living together in a London bedsit, Ginny and Greg, and an older married couple living in the countryside, Philip and Sheila.
Ginny (Teresa Baron) is a girl who has had a few relationships, including one with an older and married man. Greg (Rohan Gotobed) is newer to the art of romance and besotted with Ginny. We see them waking up on a weekend morning with Ginny determined to catch a train to visit her parents in the countryside. Greg is perplexed by a constant flow of flowers and chocolates arriving at the flat and an unexplained pair of slippers. Undaunted he proposes to Ginny before she sets out for the train. Finding an address on a fag packet he sets out to follow her to her parents to ask for her hand.
Greg arrives at the address earlier than Ginny, and meets Sheila (Jo Davies) and her husband Philip (Russell J Turner). A series of hilarious misunderstandings ensues.
Russell and Jo are both Crude Apache stalwarts with many fine performances under their belts, and they do not disappoint here. They both have superb timing and give great depth of character to a couple who retain polite conventions but are really struggling with fidelity and commitment. They perfectly demonstrate that part of English society where good manners are far more important than honesty and decency in relationships.
Rohan and Teresa are both UEA students and on the evidence of this production both have a bright future on the stage. Rohan has already gained an impressive performing CV including a role in the final Harry Potter movie, and is an assured stage performer. Teresa as Ginny plays the central character in this comedy of relationships and gives a warmth and humanity to a role that could be too easily put across as a simplistic stereotype. She is helped by the fact that Ayckbourn always wrote strong female characters, even at a time when social customs were much more constraining of women than they are now. The play also relies on the need for the protagonists to remain clueless about their real identities until the end, while the audience are in on the truths from the start. With a lesser writer this could be a clunking device, but Ayckbourn just about retains credibility throughout.
Although this is a very funny script we sat amongst a very restrained and polite audience who were not going to be caught out laughing out loud for the major part of the first half, which cannot have helped the first night nerves of the cast, but the comedy of this work is infectious. The humour of this dark drama is enhanced by Jo Edye’s handling of a set change. The Maddermarket has a notoriously constrained stage, but drawing on years of open-air theatrical experience Jo has the set change carried out by fluorescent troupe of roller-disco dressed ladies who dance along to the eighties beats that characterise the time that Jo has chosen to re-set this drama in. They deserve, and get, a huge round of applause. By the end of the show the theatre is alive with mirth as misbehaviour reaps its deserved reward.
This is a lively and enjoyable performance of a stage classic that gives four fine actors a chance to deliver four memorable characters in a plot line that will have some familiar dilemmas from all our
Russell J Turner and Jo Davies
various life experiences. It touches on dark themes without the need for anything that would trouble a prudish censor and is refreshingly free of the techno bells and whistles that make many contemporary stage works something of an endurance test. If you enjoy good writing, great stagecraft and top class acting talent then you should not miss this show, which plays at the Maddermarket until Saturday 24th February.
© Julian Swainson 2018
Relatively Speaking by Alan Ayckbourn
Friday 16th – Saturday 24th February at 7.30 pm, matinees on Saturdays at 2:30 pm
Madders Monday – all tickets £10
Box Office 01603 620917