Sunday, November 3, 2013

Review: (Vancouver) Relatively Speaking

(photo by Wendy D Photography)
Not very nice people in old comedy.
Misunderstandings and interrupted sentences form the base.
by David C. Jones

If you are going to remount an almost 50-year-old comedy you need to know what relevance it will have for the modern audience? Attitudes and morals have changed and for better or worse so have attention spans. Slow plotting, long introductions to characters and the main premise have given way to diving head first into the action.

We are also in an era of the meanie. Breaking Bad, Mad Men, Game of Thrones, American Horror Story, Dexter, and so on. In a complicated time we appear to be attracted to morally flexible ambitious protagonists. But we have new morals, we know racism is bad and we are also sensitive to sexist behaviour. We will tolerate it in stories if we can relate to the needs of the anti-hero.

In Relatively Speaking (written by the celebrated Alan Ayckbourn) a young couple is talking about possibly getting married. Ginny is more experienced and she is hiding boxes of chocolates and explaining away all the bunches of flowers that are being delivered. Greg finds a pair of slippers and wants to know if she is faithful to him. She says she is but is she? She has an illicit relationship with a married former employer named Phillip but she is determined to break it off with him.

Greg finds out where she is going – but assumes she is visiting her parents and decides to ask for her father’s permission for them to marry. He meets Phillip’s wife Sheila and through assumption and unfinished sentences they both carry on, she thinking he is a polite stranger and he thinking she is the mother of his fiancée. When she goes in for tea he meets Phillip and faster than you can say “Three’s Company” Phillip assumes Greg is planning to marry Sheila.

The hi-jinks continue and escalate when Ginny arrives and everyone keeps misunderstanding what everyone is saying. 

There is a nastiness to the characters that dilutes the enjoyment. Ginny is screwing around with Phillip, sure she is breaking it off, but they are both adulterers. Phillip is showering her with flowers and chocolates, which means he is obsessive and being a jerk to Sheila. Sheila and Greg are a little self-involved but not written as characters that warrant such betrayal.

So how do you make this old comedy work in a modern context? Do you layer flakiness into Sheila and Greg to help justify the philandering of their partners? Do you up the passion or maybe even some cruelty into Ginny and Phillip so we can see them twist in the wind as the confusions start to pile up? Phillip late in the play tries to pull a nasty trick on Ginny, is he a cad? Do you play that up? Do you pick up the pace to motor through the material?

In this production everyone is sincere and the pacing is very slow. The men (Jay Hindle as Greg and Terence Kelly as Phillip) have a slightly better time. Mr Hindle is charming and a touch quirky and Mr. Kelly plays confused with a conviction that is amusing. Stacie Steadman as Ginnie and Anna Hagan as Sheila are stuck playing women who aren’t very interesting. It appears everyone is going for sympathetic portrayals which makes comedy challenging.

The production looks nice, the set by Glenn MacDonald is a messy London flat and then a quaint garden patio with a working fountain. Both are complemented nicely with lighting by Darren Boquist and period costumes by Sydney Cavanagh.

There were some older people in the elevator remarking how delighted they were by the production.  I found it respectful, not dark enough to be wicked and not light enough to be fun. 

Relatively Speaking runs to December 1 

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