Belgrade Theatre, Coventry, Tuesday 1st November, 2016
Alan Ayckbourn’s hit comedy from 1967 still comes across as fresh and funny, mainly because the devices it uses (mistaken identities, misunderstandings) are timeless and as old as theatre itself. At the time of its premiere, the play was actually rather progressive with its matter-of-fact depiction of a young unmarried couple and their evident sexual relationship. Ginny and Greg have only been together for a month! Gasp! Of course, these days we take these things in our stride; Ayckbourn was clearly ahead of the game when it comes to the way social mores were going.
It soon becomes apparent that Ginny is more worldly-wise than Greg. Details of previous lovers emerge and she is rather too vague about the flowers and chocolates that continue to arrive. Greg’s suspicions (among other things) are aroused and he follows her to what he thinks is her parents’ house in deepest Buckinghamshire. Somehow he arrives before she does and so a web of mistakes and misunderstandings ensues, entangling the characters but giving the audience delicious treat after treat. Ayckbourn takes dramatic irony and stretches it almost beyond the bounds of plausibility but he is such a master of the form, he knows exactly how to stir and season the pot.
The cast of four is excellent, playing the finely-tuned comedy like a virtuoso quartet. Antony Eden is Greg, well-meaning, decent but a bit dim Greg, the catalyst for the chaos. Lindsey Campbell is his perky but secretive girlfriend, with Robert Powell and Ayckbourn veteran Liza Goddard as the older couple mistaken for her parents. Eden is energetic and likable while Campbell balances attractiveness with shadiness – we begin to suspect she’s not quite good enough for him. Powell’s comic timing is a joy as grumpy Philip is wound up like a clock spring while Goddard is the perfect foil for him as the sweetly oblivious Sheila who is not as dim as she might appear.
Robin Herford directs with a light touch. The characters come across as credible people in an incredible situation and the laughs keep coming. Big, hearty belly laughs – it is as though maestro Ayckbourn is playing us like fiddles and we love him for it. He keeps us in on the joke throughout and we revel in our superior knowledge as the characters flail and flounder. It all seems to stem from a terribly English inability to introduce ourselves properly. We assume, we leap to conclusions, rather than breach convention, rather than risk appearing impolite and say who we are and what we mean. And we’re all the more fun because of it!