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Relatively Speaking review at Salisbury Playhouse – ‘immensely enjoyable’

Caroline Harker and Tim McMullan in Relatively Speaking at Salisbury Playhouse. Photo: Helen Murray

Sexual attitudes might have undergone massive changes in the 50-odd years since Alan Ayckbourn scored his first major hit with Relatively Speaking, but the play remains a crowd-pleaser.

It’s a masterpiece of comic construction and, if it seems slightly dated at times, you barely notice in Jo Newman’s cracking production.

It helps that the performances are excellent. Louise Calf brings just the right mix of innocence and experience to girl-about-town Ginny and her eager-to-please, over-anxious boyfriend Greg is flawlessly played by Hubert Burton.

Mistaken identities and misunderstandings abound and the fun comes from watching pennies drop as realisations dawn on each character. Caroline Harker and Tim McMullan draw the biggest laughs with their impeccable timing. Harker’s Sheila swans through the marital mayhem serenely, with just a quizzically raised eyebrow here, and nervy fiddling of a waistband there, to suggest the bewildered disquiet underneath. McMullan’s eyebrows show no such restraint as his increasingly apoplectic Philip develops a range of facial tics and bodily twitches.

Ayckbourn’s play is the first of two in-the-round productions to be performed in Salisbury Playhouse’s main house this autumn. The auditorium has been transformed. The set shifts cleverly from London flat to Home Counties garden, and James Button’s design, with its swirling multi-coloured, psychedelic lines, places it firmly in the Swinging Sixties when living in sin could still shock middle-class suburbia and illegitimacy was a word that people whispered.

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Immensely enjoyable revival of Alan Ayckbourn's first major hit