See How The Other Half Loves in Welwyn Garden City
PUBLISHED: 12:25 21 September 2014 | UPDATED: 14:45 25 September 2014
If it is laughter you are after, see How The Other Half Loves at the Barn Theatre in Welwyn Garden City this week.
The Alan Ayckbourn favourite is the first play in the Barn’s new season.
Directed by John Davies, it plays at the Handside Lane theatre until Saturday, September 27.
Ayckbourn’s second West End success had its London premiere at the Lyric Theatre in August 1970.
It has rarely been out of production since.
Britain’s most prolific living playwright, educated at nearby Haileybury, Ayckbourn doesn’t do epic. He’s domestic.
“I like to deal in the basics –marriage, it’s so tragic and comic, you know – the things people can do to each other,” said the playwright.
“People are terribly occupied with their own personal, everyday problems.”
Often referred to as the English Chekhov, Ayckbourn gives the audience recognisably real people and, like all real people, they can surprise us by departing from what we think we know about them.
Barn director John Davies said: “What’s striking about this play is that it’s so clever, so early in his career.
“It was the very first Ayckbourn play I ever saw – a very good amateur production around 1972.
“It turned me into an instant fan, and it’s still one of my favourites.”
He added: “I have fond memories of playing Frank in the Barn’s 1976 production of this play and it has been a joy for me to bring it back with this talented and exciting cast.
“We’ve had great fun making it, and I’m confident it will be fun to watch.”
How The Other Half Loves centres on three couples, two dinner parties and one affair.
It’s autumn 1971 and on an ingenious set that merges the living rooms of two flats into one, we watch Ayckbourn cast his amused gaze over the marriages of three middle class couples.
Frank Foster, wealthy, middle-aged and married to Fiona, William Featherstone, employee of Frank and married to ‘Mary the mouse’ and Bob Phillips, also Frank’s employee, married to Guardian-reading reluctant mum Theresa.
The couples have little in common except for Fiona Foster and Bob, who are having an affair.
When the Fosters and the Phillips invite the Featherstones, unwittingly used as alibis by lovers Fiona and Bob, to dinner on consecutive nights we witness Ayckbourn’s dexterity with words and silences as the guests swivel from avocado to packet soup – flavoured with hairspray by the off-stage baby – and back.
Thanks to the stage set-up, the two separate evenings are shown simultaneously in what must rank as one of the classic comedy scenes of not just British, but world theatre.
In the last act, Mary’s exit line delivers a simple but devastating critique of her husband and their marriage.
It is one of Ayckbourn’s most light-hearted plays, hysterically funny and, at the same time, heart-wrenchingly painful.
Performances are at 8pm, with a matinee on September 27 at 2.30pm.
* Tickets cost £11 from the Barn Theatre box office on 01707 324300 or online at www.barntheatre.co.uk